Courts and Agencies Must Provide Interpreters for People Who do not Speak English

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Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


Many law suits are filed every day. People involved in a lawsuit may feel worried or afraid about what will happen. The worry and fear can be much worse for people who do not speak or understand English. An interpreter can help. An interpreter restates what is said in the language the listener understands. Iowa law says that courts and state agencies have to provide interpreters:

  • for a party to a lawsuit (someone who files a lawsuit, or the person being sued)
  • for a witness
  • for someone who has a hearing with a state agency (like the Department of Human Services, or Workforce Development.)

Who pays for the interpreter?

Under Iowa law, a judge will sign an order for an interpreter. If the person who needs the interpreter can't afford to pay for one, the court will pay. At the end of the lawsuit, the court may decide that one party or another should pay the court for the cost of the interpreter.

In addition to the Iowa law, there is also a federal law. The federal law is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It has rules about services to people with "Limited English Proficiency (LEPs)." These federal rules may require a free interpreter. If the court orders you to pay for the interpreter, you may want to talk to a lawyer to see if the interpreter should have been free under Title VI.

Who can be an interpreter?

Iowa has a list of "certified" interpreters. The court will appoint a certified interpreter, if one is available. If none is available, the court can appoint someone from a different list of interpreters. If no interpreter from either of these two lists is available, the court can appoint anyone who is qualified.

If you need an interpreter, ask the court or agency as soon as possible. If you were not able to get an interpreter, or were told to pay for the interpreter, you may be able to get help from Iowa Legal Aid.


Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Jul 20, 2023
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