Access to Justice

Blue Door -- iStock_000015826118SmallOne of the cornerstones of our justice system is ensuring that every person has access to the justice system. Access takes many forms including Sixth Amendment protections of the right to counsel, providing quality assistance to self-represented litigants, helping to ensure that language and other access barriers do not exist for citizens when interacting with the courts, and applying procedures equitably and consistently throughout the process.

Emerging Topics and Trends

Procedural fairness – Courts study and improve procedural fairness to increase public trust and confidence. According to Tom Tyler, procedural fairness is attained when judges conduct proceedings so that the parties have a voice to tell their story, perceive that the court system is neutral, are treated with respect, and believe the judge is trustworthy.[1] Originally developed for judges, court staff, defense attorneys, prosecution offices and other stakeholders are also studying ways to improve procedural fairness.

Self-Represented Litigants – Courts and justice system stakeholders are working hard to provide access and assistance to self-represented litigants.  Initiatives include better electronic and hardcopy procedural guides and forms in multiple languages, online access to easy, self-instructed e-filing, use of public terminals at the courthouse and self-help centers.

Indigent Defense Initiatives – Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel has been an important development that was affirmed by Gideon vs. Wainwright. Since the Gideon case, great efforts have been taken to provide competent counsel to defendants. However, more work needs to be done to ensure that indigent defendants receive access to counsel who are diligent in their defense. Most states have funded and built indigent defense programs and many are working to increase the quality of counsel and improve public defense systems. The first project below highlights some of JMI’s work in this area.

Project Highlights

Comal County Client Choice Program

The Client Choice Program is a pilot project in Comal County, Texas in which indigent defendants may select an attorney rather than be appointed an attorney through the county’s existing rotational assignment process.  JMI’s role is to work with Comal County stakeholders, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, and indigent defense scholars to provide an initial assessment of the current indigent defense system and then evaluate the impact of the Client Choice Program which will include a report on the outcome and impact of the implementation of the Client Choice Project. The Client Choice Program and been featured in the New York Times and is an interesting test to provide better application of the Sixth Amendment’s Right to Counsel. JMI’s evaluation of the program is scheduled to be completed in September 2015.

Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Policy Templates for Justice
Through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and with assistance from the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) and the Global Working Groups, JMI coordinated the development of policy templates to protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of those who come in contact with the justice system.  The policy templates are intended to be adapted by individual justice system agencies or information sharing networks. The 2008 report contains templates which provide actual policy language, commentary explaining the language proposed, and references to laws and existing policies of a related nature. Read more . . .
Public Access to Court Records: Implementing the CCJ/COSCA Guidelines Final Project Report

Through grant funds from the State Justice Institute (SJI) and in partnership with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), and the National Association for Court Management (NACM), JMI and the working groups developed guidelines for drafting a court rule or policy on public access to court records. Once the model rules and policies were developed, JMI and its partners created an implementation guide that provided suggestions for implementing the CCJ/COSCA Guidelines for Public Access to Court Records in the areas of 1) educating litigants and the public, 2) family court records, 3) internal court personnel policies on public access, 4) training curriculum for employees, and 4) contract provisions for IT vendors assisting the courts in providing public access to court records. Read more . . .

[1] Tom Tyler, Procedural Justice in the Courts 44 Court Rev. 26 (2009).


Franklin CruzAccess to Justice