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LAYING THE PATH: Creating National Standards for Language Access to State Courts

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

  • Terry Brooks

The Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID), the Judicial Division, the Commission on Immigration, the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division and the Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice were awarded a special grant of ABA funds to create national standards for the provision of
language access in state courts. The project seeks to establish guidelines which
are practical, universal, and effective at creating access to state courts for individuals with limited English proficiency.

Project Summary

Language access through professional interpretation of spoken communication
and translation of written communications has become an essential component of a functional and fair justice system. However, adequate systems to assure language access do not exist in many jurisdictions, and state courts lack
adequate and coherent standards and applicable guidance for how to analyze and implement language access in their court systems.

In developing state court language access standards, this project will review
established legal requirements for language access, review evolving standards
and best practices, and consult with advocates and organizations having proven expertise in language access issues and then prepare draft national standards for language access in state courts. The standards will establish guidelines for courts and state court administrators across the country to use in implementing
language access throughout court systems.

Staff and Oversight

The project will retain a consultant with substantial language access expertise to
conduct the preliminary research and drafting described above. An advisory committee will be created including those working in the field, state bar leaders and judges. The advisory committee will assist in shaping draft standards. The drafts will then be circulated widely among courts, the access to justice community, and other interested parties. The project will hold two hearings to receive further input, and then revise the drafts as necessary to produce
standards that are practical and effective. The standards will then be brought to the ABA House of Delegates in 2011 for adoption as ABA policy.

SCLAID has established a sub-committee to provide leadership and oversight, in
conjunction with the project advisory committee; it is chaired by Hon. Vanessa
Ruiz of the DC Court of Appeals. The sub-committee is in the process of identifying an expert to serve as a consultant and reporter for the project, and is assembling the advisory committee.

For further information, contact: Terry Brooks, Counsel, ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid & Indigent Defendants, 321 N. Clark Street, FL19, Chicago, IL 60654, 312-988-5747,

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