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Establish and expand language-accessible services

Last edited: December 22, 2011

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Ministries should prioritize language-accessible services and interpretation in the justice sector. Language barriers should be fully addressed in court processes: Language barriers can be insurmountable for victims of violence. Ministries should support the provision of signs and interpreters in court buildings and for all cases involving violence against women. The following strategies will increase access to justice for women and girls:

  • Install signage in court facilities in local languages with picture signs for women with low or no literacy.
  • Use language identification cards to identify the language of women and girls who approach court services.
  • Provide court documents, forms, and necessary information in local languages.
  • Provide interpreters for all court hearings. This may be costly, but it is fundamental to increasing access to justice.
  • Train interpreters to explain the protections offered, the sentence imposed, and victim options for input, restitution, and compensation.
  • Train interpreters in issues of violence against women. Publish standards of conduct for interpreters in cases of violence against women.
  • Establish a licensing procedure for interpreters in cases of violence against women so that qualified interpreters may be accessible to court administrators.
  • Train interpreters to work with disabled victims.
  • Provide brochures and posters on court information in relevant local languages. Utilize input from women’s NGOs in developing these brochures and posters.
  • Develop volunteer interpreter programmes with proper training for court work.
  • Publish laws and court decisions in all local languages. This may also be costly but is essential to gain public trust in an open and impartial judicial sector.
  • Provide videos in common local languages to explain the court process to survivors. This will help the survivor know what to expect and make the court process less intimidating.
  • Educate on cultural differences as well as language differences.

A newsletter for court interpreters detailed 5 recommendations to ensure best practice interpretation for survivors of all types of violence against women and girls:

  1. Implement testing, training, and monitoring procedures which assess interpreter proficiency as well as understanding of legal and ethical obligations.
  2. Provide interpreters with specialized training in issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Emphasize the link between confidentiality and victim safety. Teach interpreters how violent offenders may use the court process to intimidate and threaten survivors.
  3. Train interpreters on the effects of secondary traumatization and provide them with supervision and support.
  4. Train judges and lawyers on effective use of interpreters and how to monitor interpreters for bias on issues such as domestic abuse or sexual assault.
  5. Require interpreters to undergo background checks to identify any history of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or child abuse. Question them before each case on possible conflict of interest (Huelgo et al., 2006).

USA – Assisting Limited English Proficiency and Hearing Impaired Persons

The Minnesota Judicial Branch, Fourth Judicial District Limited English Proficiency Plan provides a framework of assistance for limited English proficiency and hearing impaired persons who come into contact with the Hennepin County District Court in Minnesota, United States. It contains a list of translated forms and documents with website links to make them available to the public. The Proficiency Plan also includes a list of other resources which are available at the court centre:

- Spanish Hotline

- Bilingual Staff Roster and Policy (Available languages: Spanish, Hmong, Somali, Italian, French, and Hebrew)

- Self-Help Center Somali Liaisons

- Translated Right to Court Appointed Interpreter Signs

- Translated directional signs

- Instructions for “How to Request an Interpreter for a Court Hearing”

- Telephone Interpreter Services

- Closed captioned jury video

- Assisted listening devices

- Language identification flashcards in 38 languages

- “I need an Interpreter” cards in 10 foreign languages commonly spoken in Minnesota

- English/Spanish Court Terminology Glossary

- Tips for Serving Deaf Court Customers

- English/American Sign Language Glossary

- Online communication aids, including translation services and glossaries

Tools for Addressing Language Barriers:

Aequilibrium: Instruments for Lifting Language Barriers in Intercultural Legal Proceedings (Keijzer-Lambooy and Gasille, eds.,2004). Part II contains information for vulnerable groups. Part IV contains a toolkit with criteria for interpreter registration, fee agreements, logistical arrangements, and practical checklists. The resource was developed by legal practitioners and university experts from European Union countries. Available in English.

Tips for Service Providers Working with Women who are Deaf, Deafened, Hard of Hearing, or Deaf-Blind (British Columbia Institute against Family Violence et al., 2001). Available in English.

Aequitas- Access to Justice across Language and Culture in the EU (Hertog, ed.,2001). Contains guidelines for selecting and training interpreters, assessment tools, tools for practical working arrangements, good practice and ethical conduct guidelines, and a bibliography that emphasizes training. Available in English.

Culture Handbook (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 2001). Available in English. For advocates and professionals who work with victims of domestic and sexual violence, this manual stresses the importance of reaching out to diverse communities to understand how different cultures are affected by gender-based violence. The group has also developed a factsheet entitled Cultural Competency Tips and a quiz to find out if services are linguistically and culturally accessible to women who speak other languages. A sample multilingual brochure, You have a right to be free from violence in your own home (Family Violence Prevention Fund) is available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Russian, and Korean.

Effectively Working With Court Interpreters (Minnesota Judicial Branch, USA, 2008). Available in English.

2004 Language Assistance Plan (Dane County Circuit Court, Wisconsin, USA, 2004). Available in English. A framework for providing timely and effective language assistance, this publication details the costs of such assistance and outlines the responsibilities of different levels of Wisconsin courts.

Working with Foreign Language Interpretation in the Courtroom: A Bench Guide for Judges (The Supreme Court of Ohio, USA. 2007). Available in English.

Working with Interpreters in the Courtroom: Benchcard for Judges (The New York State Unified Court System, USA. 2008). Available in English.