MEDIA RELEASE: Nonprofits file for an investigation into court access for non-English speakers

MEDIA RELEASE: Nonprofits file for an investigation into court access for non-English speakers
Complainants say lack of free interpreters in NC courts is violation of the Civil Rights Act

RALEIGH (May 16, 2011) – Three North Carolina nonprofits filed an administrative complaint today with the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the North Carolina court system has failed to provide interpreters for individuals with limited English proficiency in civil and some criminal court proceedings. Without an interpreter, many plaintiffs and defendants are left in the dark during critical court proceedings.

The complaint – filed by the Latin American Coalition, Muslim American Society and Vietnamese Society of Charlotte – requests an investigation into the state’s justice system to determine whether the lack of foreign language interpreters violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by state courts and also prohibits those courts from administering programs that subject individuals to similar discrimination.

Each of the three complainant organizations include individuals who do not speak or understand English well enough to participate in civil court proceedings without an interpreter. The complaint says that the North Carolina justice system has not only failed to provide free court interpreters, but also has not translated crucial forms and website information for non-English speakers.

Although certain persons with limited English proficiency receive a free interpreter in court – including indigent defendants in criminal cases and plaintiffs in domestic violence cases – a majority of plaintiffs and defendants who do not speak or understand English well enough, do not receive interpreters paid for by the state. Many cases in which no interpreter is provided involve issues of critical importance to individuals and families, including child custody cases, evictions and foreclosures, and criminal cases where defendants choose to hire their own attorney instead of using a court-appointed lawyer.

Individuals with limited English proficiency face the prospect of losing their children, home, or liberty without access to an interpreter who can interpret details of the court proceedings.

The filing by attorneys at the North Carolina Justice Center, on behalf of the three complainant organizations, requests a full investigation of the claims, and that the State, Judicial Branch and its Administrative Office of the Courts end their refusal to provide meaningful access to persons with limited English proficiency in the state civil court system.

For more information, contact: Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, NC Justice Center, jeff@ncjustice.org, (919) 863-2402 (office) (503) 551.3615 (mobile).