Language Barriers in the Criminal Justice System

Explore our latest evidence on how these affect ESL speakers

Key findings 

Speakers of English as a second or additional language (ESL) face a range of language barriers in the criminal justice system (CJS), including:

  • Patchy provision of language support, impacted by factors such as time and resource pressures. 
  • Inconsistent collection and sharing of information on individuals' language needs across agencies.
  • Largely monolingual nature of services (aside from provision in Welsh, which is protected in law).
  • No standard approach or guidance about the level of English language proficiency needed to participate effectively in criminal justice processes.
  • Lack of training provided to practitioners on how to support those who speak ESL.  

These language barriers significantly impact the ability of ESL speakers to participate fully in criminal justice processes, undermining their ability to achieve fair justice and rehabilitation outcomes.


Policy and practice reforms are urgently needed across five key areas:

  • Collecting data to build understanding and raise awareness of language barriers in the CJS.
  • Upholding and strengthening the rights and entitlements of ESL speakers.
  • Improving services and widening access.
  • Empowering practitioners to support service users.
  • Deploying innovative solutions.

Explore the report to find out more.

Even the letter which I received from the police when they let me know the date of the court, I pretty much understood only that sentence…On the top of the letter and the bottom of the letter, there were words which I never... I didn’t understand it. Victim of hate crime

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As part of this project, we developed a range of evidence-based, practical tools to support practitioners in the criminal justice sector work effectively with speakers of ESL.

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