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VOL. 115 | NO. 36 | Thursday, February 22, 2001

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Court system project helps Court system project helps provide equal access to justice The Tennessee court system is taking steps to eliminate communication barriers in legal proceedings involving defendants and others whose primary language is not English. The Administrative Office of the Courts is providing judges with court forms translated by the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute into Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Lao, Russian and Vietnamese - languages increasingly heard in the state's courtrooms. The forms are available on the court system Web site at www.tsc.state.tn.us, along with Spanish versions of a Guide to Tennessee Courts, basic forms used for the state's Parenting Plan and the handbook for parents and guardians in child abuse and neglect cases. All of the documents and publications are in Adobe Acrobat portable document format and can be printed. Grants from the National Center for State Courts and the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, a division of Finance and Administration, are being used to translate or produce the legal documents as well as video and audiotapes. The tapes, when produced, will explain basic legal rights to parties and defendants who do not understand English. "Our goal is to ensure that language barriers are not barriers to equal justice," said Cornelia Clark, administrative director of the courts. "Tennessee, like many other states, is becoming more culturally diverse every day and we need to protect the rights of all people who use the court system." In 2000, the AOC determined that the number of circuit court defendants who do not speak English as a primary language had increased by about 285 percent since 1990. The greatest need for the forms and tapes is in General Sessions Courts where the volume of cases is high, Clark said. General Sessions Court judges handle such matters as traffic violations, misdemeanors and preliminary hearings in felony cases. Many of the judges also have domestic relations, juvenile and probate jurisdiction as well. Forms currently available include orders of protection in Spanish; state rules of probation in Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Vietnamese; and the uniform affidavit of indigency, petition for acceptance of a guilty plea, order for accepting a guilty plea and a notice of DUI punishment in Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Lao, Russian and Vietnamese. Another equal access project is establishing qualifications for court interpreters in Tennessee. The project, funded by a grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs and operated jointly with the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute, is providing workshops across the state to help prepare potential court interpreters for certification when it becomes available.

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