Language Access in the North Carolina Courts

What is language access?

It is important that the state courts provide language access services for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. Language access is the full spectrum of language services available to provide meaningful access to court proceedings and operations for LEP individuals. Language access services in the court include the interpretation of spoken and written materials. In 2015, it was reported that 1,031,895 out of 9,234,163 people speak a language other than English in North Carolina. Forty-two percent of population that spoke a language other than English spoke English less than “very well.1 LEP individuals will utilize the court system. Providing language access services will facilitate LEP individuals access to the courts, and ensure that all North Carolina residents are given the right to due process and a fair trial.

Retrieved from Center for Urban Pedagogy.

What is the issue?

North Carolina state courts have historically failed to provide meaningful language access in the courts to LEP individuals. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice addressed this issue through a letter to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. The letter details the Administrative Office of the Courts’ violation of Title VI and the Safe Streets Act on the basis of national origin discrimination.3 Still, rape crisis centers and domestic violence centers report issues in regards to language access, such as court interpreters being unavailable, and advocates being asked to interpret for their clients. In fact, the Justice Index rates North Carolina in terms of language access in the courts for LEP individuals at 51.69 points out of 100 points.4


Retrieved from The Justice Index.


What are the consequences of a lack of meaningful language access?

When the courts do not provide meaningful language access, LEP individuals are unable to meaningfully participate in the court process. In the 2012 letter to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, the U.S. Department of Justice noted the very real consequences of systemic discrimination against LEP individuals in North Carolina:

  • Longer incarceration as a result of continuances caused by the failure to locate an interpreter.
  • Serious conflicts of interest caused by allowing state prosecutors to interpret for defendants in criminal proceedings.
  • Requiring pro se and indigent litigants to proceed with domestic violence, child custody, housing eviction, wage dispute, and other important proceedings without an interpreter.3

The effects will trickle down to all levels of society. If LEP individuals are unable to fully participate in the court process due to language barriers, then the courts will be unable to provide accurate findings. National origin discrimination will continue. Confidence in the court system will dwindle. LEP defendants will experience a higher risk of continued or increased danger, and will be unable to protect their homes and children.2  

Retrieved from Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence.

What can you do?

Here are steps you can take to promote and prioritize language access in both the courts and your own organization.

1) Hold courts accountable by speaking up/filing complaints. You can report a complaint at
2) Alert NCCASA to any issues you are having in terms of language access.
3) Develop trainings and technical assistance on language access.
4) Build capacity to serve the LEP population by developing a Language Access Plan.
5) Develop training for interpreters on working with survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
6) Decline to interpret during court proceedings and operations. Guidance for this can be found at
7) Make clients aware of their rights in terms of language access.

Further Reading

1 American FactFinder.
2 National Latin@ Network. (2015).  Increasing language access in the courts.  Retrieved from .
3 Perez, T.E. (2012). Investigation of North Carolina  administrative office of the courts complaint no. 171-54m-8.  Retrieved from
4 National Center for Access to Justice. (2016). Language access index. Retrieved from