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The Justice Department today announced it has reached an agreement with the Rhode Island Judiciary to ensure that limited English proficient (LEP) individuals will have access to timely and competent language assistance at no charge in all court proceedings, services and programs throughout the state court system.
As part of the agreement, the department approved the Rhode Island Judiciary’s Language Access Plan, which outlines the efforts to be undertaken in order to ensure comprehensive language assistance throughout the court system. The plan requires ongoing translations of forms and signs in court buildings into commonly spoken languages in Rhode Island, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Cambodian and Cape Verdean. The Rhode Island Judiciary also created a Notice of Right to Language Assistance which states that the court will provide a competent interpreter for any limited English proficient party or witness at no charge, and explains the procedure to request an interpreter or a translation of the notice into other languages. The notice must be provided to each defendant in a proceeding and is available in multiple languages. In civil matters, the notice must be incorporated in or attached to the initial pleading to be served upon the defendant. In criminal matters, the notice must be incorporated in or attached to the initial charging documents provided to the defendant, in the forms completed by a bail commissioner or provided by the court at the defendant’s her initial court appearance. In addition, a language services complaint form is available in multiple languages on the court’s website, in the court clerk’s office and at the Office of Court Interpreters.
The plan was mandated in 2012 by Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell through an executive order that was issued after extensive consultation with the department. The Office of Court Interpreters and the Administrative Office of State Courts will review the effectiveness of the plan and consider changes to improve its policies and procedures on an annual basis. The plan includes an important requirement for input from and consultation with stakeholders. The agreement also requires additional steps to be taken by the court in consultation with the department and provides for at least two years of monitoring and technical assistance.
“Chief Justice Suttell, the Rhode Island Judiciary staff and the other Rhode Island stakeholders who contributed to this process are to be commended for their ongoing efforts and shared determination that justice and equality in Rhode Island courts not be restricted to those proficient in English,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.
The complaint was resolved as part of the initiative by the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section (FCS) of the Civil Rights Division to ensure that state courts comply with the language access requirements of Title VI. To ensure that no LEP individual is denied justice due to a court’s failure to provide language services, the FCS Courts Team, led by Special Legal Counsel Christine Stoneman, provides policy guidance and technical assistance to state court systems and undertakes enforcement actions across the country. Recently, FCS released a Courts Language Access Planning and Assistance Tool and resolved a complaint with the King County Superior Court in Washington.
The Rhode Island matter was handled by FCS Attorney Paul M. Uyehara of the Civil Rights Division with the assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorney Ndidi N. Moses, who was serving as a Detail Attorney to FCS.
For more information about Title VI and the Safe Streets Act, or to obtain copies of the settlement documents, please visit this website.