A Language Access Planning Tool for Courts

December 19, 2012

The following post appears courtesy of the Civil Rights Division.

The Civil Rights Division is tasked with enforcement of some of the most important laws enacted by Congress, which aim to fulfill our nation’s promise of equal opportunity and equal justice under the law.  In enforcing these laws, our goal is to be not simply the nation’s civil rights litigator, but also the nation’s civil rights problem-solver.

Among the ways that we can help solve problems is through technical assistance tools that encourage and facilitate voluntary compliance with civil rights requirements.  One such requirement – a requirement that will remain a continuing focus for the Civil Rights Division – is the obligation that state and local court systems provide meaningful access to all of their operations regardless of language ability.  For tens of millions of limited English proficient (LEP) individuals in our nation who may need to interact with state courts, the absence of effective court services and policies can make communication difficult or impossible.  Comprehensive language access programs are therefore a critical undertaking for states that want to ensure meaningful access to LEP individuals, comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and increase public confidence in the justice system while also improving judicial outcomes.

With these interests in mind, the Department of Justice is committed to providing technical assistance tools that will help courts develop – short of formal enforcement efforts – the kinds of programs that provide meaningful access to court operations regardless of language ability.  The Division’s Federal Coordination & Compliance Section has developed a draft Language Access Planning Technical Assistance Tool for Courts.  This tool is based on our experience working with state court systems around the country for more than a decade, and is designed to assist individuals involved in planning and implementing measures to improve access to court proceedings and operations for LEP parties, witnesses and other participants.  The draft tool highlights the importance of assessment and planning and identifies questions for state judges and court staff to consider as they identify challenges and opportunities for improvement. 

We developed this tool in order to respond to the many requests for technical assistance from courts and interested stakeholders.  It draws upon years of experience working with and hearing from courts, attorneys, LEP individuals, advocates and others.  Courts can use this tool to identify those areas that are already well-covered, as well as those that may require more long-term planning and implementation to accomplish. 

We welcome your feedback on this draft technical assistance tool.  Please send your comments and feedback to lep@usdoj.gov and make sure to include “Feedback on LEP Self-Assessment for Courts” in the subject line.  All comments must be submitted by Feb. 15, 2013.

The Civil Rights Division has also prepared additional other technical assistance tools regarding state court language access, accessible online in the State Courts section of the Resources by Subject page of www.LEP.gov.

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