Translation of Orders of Protection: Courts Help Keep New Yorkers Safe

Empire Justice April 27, 2017

New York is the linguistically diverse home to people who speak more than 150 different languages and dialects.  When domestic violence impacts families of all backgrounds, civil and criminal orders of protection can be one of our most valuable and effective tools to help hold offenders accountable and keep victims and children safe.  In fact, orders of protection are one of our state’s most utilized intervention tools with New York courts issuing nearly 300,000 orders of protection in 2015 alone.

Orders of protection contain, sometimes, several pages of detailed, specific conditions and notice provisions that require a high degree of understanding by both the enjoined person who must comply with its mandates, as well as by the protected party who relies on its terms for safety and seeks its enforcement when violated.  For limited English proficient language speakers, however, having this critical document issued in a language they cannot speak or read well undermines its very purpose.

Over the last decade, both the Assembly and the Senate have introduced bills that attempted to address these language access concerns in various ways, but no one legislative remedy met with success.  In 2015, the Unified Court System announced very helpful bilingual order of protection pilot projects, with a limited roll-out in Spanish to family court family offense orders in a handful of jurisdictions.  The courts then added Russian and Chinese language orders and further expanded the pilots to Family Courts throughout the state, including to the Integrated Domestic Violence Courts.  In January 2017, the court system also began a similar pilot project issuing criminal court orders of protection in Spanish.  As of March 2017, almost 12,500 bilingual orders of protection have been issued.  The courts system also created a multi-year implementation plan providing for the addition of more languages annually.

This year’s budget both codifies the court system’s progress to date and expands upon it significantly by amending Judiciary Law §212 to:

  • Make translation services available to all family and supreme courts temporary and final orders of protection where either the enjoined or the protected party has limited English proficiency or a limited ability to read English.
    • These translated orders will be made available to orders of protection issued as a part of supreme court divorce and custody proceedings (amending DRL §§240, 252), and as part of family offense, child and spousal support, paternity, custody, child welfare, PINS and juvenile delinquency matters in the family courts (create a new FCA §169).
  • Address geographic diversity by making orders available in the top 10 languages most frequently used by courts of the four judicial departments and giving the Chief Administrator of the Courts the ability to add additional languages as needed.
  • Institute a progressive implementation plan adding three top languages each year by January 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, and four by December 30, 2020.
  • Mandate that upon issuance of an order of protection under JL §212, the court must advise parties of the availability of translation services and inquire whether such services are needed.  Litigants will be given copies of both the English and translated orders.  Further, the court shall read the essential terms and conditions of the order aloud into the record and direct the court-appointed interpreter to interpret the same.
  • Issue a report by April 1, 2019 addressing the availability and use of this program statewide, detailing service provision under the translation and interpretation program, as well as those parties who requested translation and interpretation services but were not provided a translated order.  The report shall also contain recommendations for further legislation relating to these language access services.
  • Issue a report by April 1, 2018 evaluating the technical and operational issues involved with providing these same translation and interpretation services for family offense and non-family offense criminal orders of protection issued in both the state-paid and town and village justice courts.  As part of this process, the court will create several pilot criminal court projects (in each judicial district across the state, one county in NYC, and two counties outside of NYC) that will develop best practices for the use of these written translation and interpretation services.  Following consultation with various stakeholders, the Chief Administrator will include an analysis and evaluation of the pilots in the report with a plan for expanding to justice courts statewide.

Empire Justice Center applauds the unified court system together with the budget-related advances that will help remove language access barriers faced by some of our state’s most marginalized families at the very time they need clear and understandable information.

While we are disappointed that the criminal court orders remain an outstanding area of unmet need, we look forward to learning more about navigating the complexities of expanding into these courts in the highly anticipated 2018 report.