Section 14 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlines the right of parties and witnesses to have interpreters in a proceeding.
14. A party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter.
This right exists with respect to all languages. Depending on the context and legislative scheme, the interpreter fees may be paid by the government, or borne by one or more of the parties. For example, the fees will be covered by the government for an accused in a criminal matter but would likely be paid by the parties in the context of a commercial matter.
In British Columbia, Court Services Branch only supplies interpreters for criminal cases, family proceedings in Provincial Court, and traffic or municipal by-law cases unless a court orders otherwise. In these cases, you must contact the Court Registry where your proceeding is filed, or will be filed, as soon as possible to make arrangements. A local interpreter is not always available and particularly in smaller locations, courts need lead time to arrange court interpreters from another city.
The court also provides free language interpretation services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. There is an option to request for Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) for individuals requesting ASL. This service is available in all types of proceedings.
Note that the court provides interpreters only for when you are in the courtroom. For services outside the courtroom, you will need to make your own arrangements for interpretation.
For matters in small claims, Supreme Court family or Supreme Court civil you must make your own booking and payment arrangements. This can be arranged through the Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia or check the list of Translation and Support Services available on the BC Government website.
R. v. Tran, 1994 CanLII 56 (SCC)
R. v. Tran is a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision establishing guidelines for assessing the quality of court interpretation services to guarantee linguistic understanding as protected under section 14 of the Charter. The Court’s decision identified an accused person’s right to an interpreter as a “principle of fundamental justice” guaranteed by section 7 of the Charter. However, in delivering the court’s unanimous decision, Chief Justice Lamer stated that the Court’s judgment “relates specifically to the right of an accused in criminal proceedings, and must not be taken as necessarily having any broader application.”
Content reviewed September 29, 2023
- Constitution Acts – Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Justice Laws
- Arrange an interpreter for court proceedings – Government of BC
- How do you ask for a court interpreter? Do you have to pay? - Government of BC
- Supreme Court - Court Locations & Contacts (bccourts.ca) – Government of BC
- Charterpedia - Section 14 – Right to an interpreter - Government of Canada
- Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Government of Canada
- Translation and Support Services – Government of BC
- Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia (STIBC)
- Halsbury's Laws of Canada, - Constitutional Law - Section 14 right to assistance of interpreter -- on site at various Courthouse Libraries locations