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Language Barriers to Justice in California (2005)

In its 2002 report on access to justice in California — “The Path to Equal Justice” — the Commission found that 72 percent of the legal needs of low-income families continue to go unaddressed.17 The report also found that people of limited English proficiency are among those most likely to need assistance in accessing the courts and those least likely to receive it. The language barriers, compounded by the lack of legal assistance, continue to keep the promise of justice beyond the reach of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

To address this problem, the Commission on Access to Justice formed a standing committee on language access issues and commissioned this report to examine the scope and impact of language barriers in California’s justice system and offer suggestions for ways to improve services for people with limited English proficiency. While this report focuses primarily on what can be done to address language barriers in our courts, other components of the justice system — including legal services programs, lawyer referral services, law libraries, law schools, bar associations and individual lawyer — also need to address language barriers if true access to justice is to be achieved. Suggestions for addressing language barriers in these other components of the judicial system are also being considered by the Commission, although they are not the focus of this report.

The California Commission on Access to Justice hopes this report proves to be an important step in the statewide effort to achieve access to justice for all Californians.