Residents of Michigan whose English-speaking skills are limited will have greater access to interpreters, following the introduction of new rulesSince 2011, the US Department of Justice has been examining the access to language services people in the state have, following cases where key witnesses or even the defendant were asked to interpret.

The Detroit Free Press reported that in one such case, a child was asked to act as an interpreter for their parents during a custody hearing with the same young person at the centre. On another occasion, a man was asked to interpret for his wife, despite the fact she was appearing in court to request a personal protection order against him.

Last week, the Supreme Court announced that it was subjecting all the state’s courts to a new rule that meant interpreting services must be offered to anyone using the court system who could not speak or understand English. The regulation was unveiled by Justice Bridget McCormack and Chief Justice Robert Young Jnr, who said language services should be offered where needed in both criminal and civil court proceedings.

“This rule not only ensures that every court in our state will provide meaningful access to our legal system for those who need it, but also will lead to greater consistency and efficiency in the delivery of foreign language services around the state,” Chief Justice Young said. According to the Michigan census, 320,000 of the state’s ten million inhabitants are not fluent in English.

Those who require a court interpreter will have their income taken into account when deciding whether or not they will be charged for the services, but they will not have to pay up front. Under the new rule, those who have an income of more than 25 per cent above the poverty line will be billed for their interpreter once the case has concluded.

However, this rule has drawn criticism from some parties, who suggest it may actually restrict access to language services for those who require them. Because 25 per cent above the poverty line is $14,362 (£9,008.63) for a single person, anyone requiring interpreting services who makes above this sum would be expected to pay. Barbara McQuade, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press she was concerned the cost might mean some people “may not bother to go to the court in the first place”, and that the effect of this could be “chilling”.

“We’re concerned that this rule may not provide meaningful access to a large number of people who may need access to the courts,” Ms McQuade explained. However, spokeswoman for Michigan Supreme Court Marcia McBrien said the rules were not rigid and should not be seen as an “inflexible cut-off”.

In the UK, courtroom interpreting services have also been in the spotlight. At the start of 2012, the Ministry of Justice awarded a five-year contract to Applied Language Solutions (later acquired by Capita) to supply all of its court interpreters. The move was made in an effort to save £15 million.

However, the news was blighted by widely-reported incidents of interpreters not turning up and cases being delayed or rescheduled as a result. Meanwhile, many interpreters felt the lower standards and the reduced fees on offer were pushing them out of the market, and Professional Interpreters for Justice claimed 81 per cent of UK interpreters would not work for Capita.

In August of this year, the Law Society Gazette reported that Capita Translation and Interpreting’s gross profits fell from £2 million to £600,000 in 2012. The company’s directors pointed to “onerous” interpreting costs as a reason for this decline.