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Access to Justice for Litigants in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Judiciary continues to coordinate resources to broaden access to civil justice for all litigants. Programs and services are focused on self-represented litigants, individuals with limited or no English proficiency, and individuals with mental or physical disabilities.

In FY 2013, the Massachusetts Trial Court created the Access to Justice Initiative to enhance access for the public and court staff. With support from SJI (SJI-12-T-132), the Boston Municipal, District, and Housing Courts introduced small claims forms translated into the seven most widely-used languages. In addition, a self-help video project created complementary small claims videos in those languages.

With additional SJI assistance (SJI-13-T-084), the Massachusetts Administrative Office of the Trial Court (AOTC) has been preparing to implement a technical assistance pilot project that will help to establish a model language access courthouse at the Worcester Trial Court. The project, now in its implementation phase, aims to address several key areas of concern for all trial courts throughout the state, including:

  • Delivery of justice to limited English proficient (LEP) individuals;
  • Standardization of flexible service plans for trial courts to serve LEP and self-represented litigants; and,
  • Replicable standards, policies, and protocols for language access in the courts.

Much of the past year has been focused on developing a cohesive LEP Advisory Committee, consisting of key justice stakeholders, to oversee the project.

Implementation of this initiative aligns with the Judiciary’s strategic plan regarding access to justice through improving the coordination of resources set forth in the FY 2013 Annual Report on the State of the Massachusetts Court System.

Completion of the work later this year will help to establish a model language access courthouse at the Worcester Trial Court, and make resources available to other state courts that can be adapted to their own collaborative language access projects.