Language Access

Did You Know?

Nearly 7 million (19%) Californians report speaking English "less than very well'
pie chart showing Limited English Proficiency. 19% of Californians who speak English less than very well  
   Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2015)

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More than 200 languages and dialects are spoken in California.  Without proper language assistance, Limited English Proficient (LEP) court users may be excluded from meaningful participation in the judicial court process.

In January 2015, the Judicial Council adopted this statewide Language Access Plan (LAP) Report to provide recommendations, guidance, and a consistent statewide approach to ensure language access throughout the courts. 

The Language Access Implementation Task Force, chaired by California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, advises the Judicial Council on implementation of the LAP recommendations.

Of Current Interest

May 11, 2016: Univision (Spanish): “No entendí nada”: la historia de los inmigrantes que se quedan sin acceso a la justicia por no hablar inglés

March 17, 2016: Court Progress in Providing Interpreters in Civil Cases (as of September 30, 2015)

February 29, 2016: On February 26, the Judicial Council unanimously approved a new model notice translated into eight languages that will inform limited-English-proficient court users about the availability of language services. View the slideshow presented to the council.

February 17, 2016: The Process of Appointing Spoken Language Interpreters in Trial Court Proceedings - In this ten minute mentor video, Judges Erica Yew and Steve Austin walk bench officers through the procedure when appointing registered, certified, and provisionally qualified spoken language interpreters. They also offer options in situations when there are special or unique circumstances.

January 26, 2016: Read the LAP implementation Progress Report

January 8, 2016: "Governor Brown’s proposed budget is fantastic news, especially for the seven million Californians with limited English proficiency.  His budget would provide $7 million to continue expanding access to interpreters in civil cases. This funding will go a long way towards ensuring fair treatment for all court users without regard to the language they speak, while taking into account the resource challenges all our courts face. The Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force — under the auspices of the Judicial Council of California — has been working all year to raise awareness of this important issue, and we’re pleased that Governor Brown recognizes its importance as well."
– Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Chair of the Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force

thumbnail of the Language Access PlanJune 11, 2015:
Strategic Plan for Language Access in the California Courts

A version of the Language Access Plan that includes graphics is now available.


April 28, 2015: Executive Summary for the Language Access Plan is now available in the following languages.

Spanish (Español)
Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt)
Korean (한국어)
Chinese (中文)
Farsi (فارسی)
Russian (Русский)
Tagalog (Tagalog)
Arabic (العربية)
Punjabi (ਪੰਜਾਬੀ)
Khmer (Khmer)

Language Access in California

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.
  • 44% of households speak a language other than English.
  • Nearly 7 million speak English "less than very well."
  • 19% of Californians cannot access the court system without language help.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2015)

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 information 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. Efforts to expand interpreting services in civil cases are underway.

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.

More Information & Resources:
Language Access Fact Sheet
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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