For Immediate Release
August 18, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO – The Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence (API Institute) of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum applauds the U.S. Department of Justice’s commitment to ensure that individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) have equal access to state court systems.

The Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued a guidance letter on August 17, 2010 to all chief justices and state court administrators reiterating that under federal civil rights law, state courts are required to provide meaningful access to their programs and services for LEP persons through the provision of language services. It explains policies and practices that deny LEP persons meaningful access to the courts, including charging interpreter costs to the parties, and underscores the courts’ legal obligation to provide interpretation and written translations for LEP individuals in all court proceedings, including civil, criminal, and administrative; those presided over by non-judges; and other court-related matters that are conducted outside the courtroom. For domestic violence victims, this may include court mandated mediation, custody evaluations ordered by the court and pro se clinics held at the courthouse.

“Survivors of domestic and sexual violence navigate complex legal systems, but those with limited English proficiency face additional challenges. Systems that rely on untrained interpreters discriminate against LEP victims by failing to provide the same level of access as English speaking victims have,” said Chic Dabby, director of the API Institute. “Justice cannot truly be achieved unless everyone – regardless of the language they speak – can fully participate in the court system.”

The API Institute’s Resource Guide for Advocates & Attorneys on Interpretation Services for Domestic Violence Victims offers protocols to implement the provision of spoken language interpretation services by professional, culturally competent interpreters.

“The failure of courts to provide interpreters continues to jeopardize the safety of victims, resulting in denials of protection orders, reliance on family members and friends to interpret, and in some instances the use of the batterer as an interpreter,” said Cannon Han, project coordinator of the API Institute’s Interpretation Technical Assistance & Resource Center. “We hope that given this strong, clear statement of law and policy from the Department of Justice, state courts will renew their efforts in providing meaningful access to individuals who lack English proficiency.”

The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum and the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence advocate for policies and practices that increase language access. APIAHF’s mission is to influence policy, mobilize communities, and strengthen programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.