New Report on Language Access Barriers in Pennsylvania Courts

The Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic would like to share the release of Unfinished Business, a report on language access barriers faced by non-English speakers in some Pennsylvania courts. The report was authored by the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic at the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple Law School, with contributions from FLAC students, and highlights the inconsistency in providing effective language access in Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) courts in Chester, Montgomery and Delaware Counties. Several students in the spring 2017 FLAC course joined Sheller Center students in designing the study, and then conducted court observations and gathered information on court procedures through interviews with judges and court staff.

While some courts provided exemplary language access, of the 19 courts observed in this study, the majority failed to consistently provide certified court interpreters for non-English speaking civil litigants. MDJ courts operate as Pennsylvania’s “small claims” courts, where plaintiffs may bring claims for withheld wages and other employment matters that routinely impact Pennsylvania farmworkers. Improving language access is a core aspect of ensuring due process of law for the population served by FLAC. We are grateful to the Sheller Center for the opportunity to contribute to this important study and hopeful that raising awareness about these challenges will aid the Pennsylvania court system in improving language access throughout the state.

News coverage of the report: