What is Language Access?

Language access allows limited English proficient (LEP) individuals access to a wide range of services. As defined by the U.S. Department of Justice, LEP individuals are persons who do not speak English as their primary language and who may have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English.

In California, the most diverse state in the country:

  • Over 200 languages are spoken.
  • 40% of households speak a language other than English.
  • Nearly 7 million speak English "less than very well."
  • 20% of Californians cannot access the court system without language help.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

How Language Access Impacts Court Users

Man filling out paperwork
Limited English proficient (LEP) court users are unable to file the proper paperwork correctly and are required to return to court.

Image of sign for night court schedule
Signage in English may appear simple enough to understand, but to a LEP court user, key inforrmation is often misunderstood.

Court users come to courthouses because they have a problem that they cannot resolve on their own. The state constitution requires that courts provide interpreting services for court users involved in criminal and certain juvenile cases. But in many types of civil cases, interpreting is not required.

Without proper language assistance, limited English proficient (LEP) court users may be excluded from meaningful participation in the judicial process. Many LEP litigants appear without an attorney, and friends and family members who act as interpreters often do not understand legal terminology or court procedures.

Further, LEP court users' language needs are not limited to the courtroom; the need for language assistance extends to all points of contact for the public. The Courts are searching for new solutions for these issues including more efficient use of existing resources to help improve and expand language access around the state.

Language Access Plan
January 22, 2015: At its public meeting on January 22, the Judicial Council adopted a language access plan for the California courts (Press Release). The Strategic Plan for Language Access in the California Courts is the result of an 18-month effort by the Joint Working Group that included public hearings and a 60-day formal public comment period on a draft of the plan.

More Information & Resources:
NCSC Call to Action – Access to Justice for Limited English Proficient Litigants (2013)
ABA Standards for Language Access in Courts (2012)
Language Barriers to Justice in California (2005)
Federal Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Website

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