Overcoming Language Barriers in the Criminal Justice System

Policy briefing

In this briefing, we explore the language barriers faced by speakers of ESL* in the criminal justice system and the key policy changes we need to see to ensure fair and equitable justice outcomes for all.

Our recommendations include:

  • Agencies should assess and record first and other languages of individuals at every point of contact.
  • The right of victims “to understand and to be understood” must be enshrined in law, actively promoted, and its implementation monitored.
  • Agencies should introduce training and guidance for frontline staff on the nature and impacts of language barriers, as well as providing high-quality interpreter services.
  • Agencies should be aware of, and remove barriers to access, for speakers of ESL.
  • HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) should ensure that service users who speak ESL have access to the appropriate level of ESOL classes as part of their rehabilitation.
  • HMPPS should explore opportunities to formalise peer language support and offer educational opportunities for those who wish to undertake such peer work.

For more information on language barriers in the criminal justice system, explore our research.

*English as a second or additional language.