A newly released report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Language Access in State Courts, cites Barriers to Justice for Non-English Speakers in the Pennsylvania Courts, a Sheller Center study. In that study, Social Justice Lawyering Clinic students presented the results of their research on Pennsylvania’s Magisterial District Justice courts (the lowest level in the Pennsylvania court system). The research showed that these courts often operated in violation of civil rights laws mandating language services for people whose native language is not English.
DOJ’s report cites some of the problems uncovered by the Center’s study, including “instructing LEP [Limited English Proficient] individuals to wait in the court lobby until another person who speaks their language comes in, or [expecting] the LEP person to come to the courthouse with an English-speaking friend or family member.” DOJ states that “the challenge of providing meaningful language access in state courts demands that we continue to modernize, innovate, and keep pace with the evolving demographics of our country.”
With the development of a statewide language access plan in Pennsylvania, the hope is that the courts will implement uniform policies and practices that improve access to justice for non-English-speaking individuals.