RD381 - Virginia Court Interpreter Study: Impact of Interpreter Activity on Judicial Workload - October 2015

Executive Summary:

"That in order to follow up on the implementation of the Virginia Judicial Workload Assessment Report, dated November 15, 2013, by the National Center for State Courts and in order to assess more accurately the added weight to be given in cases requiring the use of interpreters in Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts in the Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court shall gather empirical data on the reliance of interpreters and make recommendations to the Chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees" (Chapters 812 and 822 of the 2014 Virginia Acts of Assembly).


Assess the impact of the use of interpreters on judicial workload and judicial need in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia has three statutes that address the provision of court interpreters in court proceedings. Virginia Code § 19.2-164 provides access to interpreters in all criminal cases,(*1) while appointment is optional in civil cases.(*2) However, we are advised that in practice, courts provide interpreters in both criminal and civil proceedings, and that the cost of an interpreter for an individual who is “limited English proficient” or LEP, including juveniles and LEP family members of a juvenile, is not charged against the LEP individual(s).(*3) Interpreters are also provided, pursuant to Va. Code § 37.2-802, in cases involving involuntary admission, or judicial certification of eligibility for admission, to a treatment facility.


Undertake a two-step process to (a) understand differences in the amount of judicial time spent handling cases that involve interpreters, as compared to cases without; (b) estimate the proportion of cases (filings) in different court levels and jurisdictions that involve interpreters; and (c) calculate the number of judges (FTE) needed to handle the judicial workload (including cases with interpreters) in the circuit, general district, and juvenile and domestic relations district courts in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Step 1: Conduct a series of interviews with judges, clerks, and OES staff interpreters at circuit, general district, and juvenile and domestic relations district courts in four judicial circuits and districts.

Step 2: Conduct a month-long time study during which judges track and record the number of hearings held as well as the amount of time spent on hearings, with and without an interpreter. Judges from a targeted sample of 21 jurisdictions with a higher level of interpreter usage in circuit, general district, and juvenile and domestic relations district court were selected to participate.


1. Hearings involving interpreters take longer than hearings that do not involve an interpreter. In courts with the highest level of interpreter usage, hearings with an interpreter take, on average, 2.2 times as long as those without in circuit court, 2.6 times as long in general district court, and 1.3 times as long in juvenile and domestic relations district court;

2. The rate of interpreter use varies among the different court levels and different jurisdictions;

3. The use of interpreters impacts judicial need in jurisdictions with a significant proportion of cases involving interpreters. Overall, time study results and input gathered during the site visits lead National Center for State Courts (NCSC) staff to believe no new judgeships are needed statewide due to high levels of interpreter activity. Excess workload in certain jurisdictions may be handled through access to retired judges and substitute judges.
(*1) Va. Code § 19.2-164 (2007).
(*2) “In any trial, hearing or other proceeding before a judge in a civil case in which a non-English-speaking person is a party or witness, an interpreter for the non-Englishspeaking person may be appointed by the court.” Va. Code § 8.01-384.1:1 (2003).
(*3) Consistent with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000d) and applicable Federal funding statutes such as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. §3789d(c)), and their implementing regulations.