Justice is among our society’s most profound ideals. Access to justice means that people and groups can learn about and protect their rights through a neutral and nondiscriminatory process that determines the facts, applies the fair rule of law, and enforces the result.
Too often, people are unable to obtain a legal representative, initiate proceedings, understand the proceedings against them, and secure a just outcome. In civil cases, 80% of the legal needs of the poor are unmet. In criminal cases, those unable to afford a lawyer are promised free counsel, but only the poorest obtain it, often it is late, and typically its quality is impaired.
We rely on our justice system to uphold our laws for everyone, and especially for those in our society who are most vulnerable. Access to justice can make the difference in halting domestic violence, stopping unjust foreclosures, keeping families together, securing owed wages, and stopping unfair criminal proceedings. It is important in all proceedings. It is important to everyone.
NCAJ is the academically affiliated national organization that relies on data to accomplish policy reforms that help people obtain access to justice.
- The Justice Index – We created the Justice Index, www.justiceindex.org, an online data-intensive system that uses data to rank state justice systems on their adoption of best policies for civil legal aid, language access, disability access, and people without lawyers. We highlight the actual policies to facilitate their replication across the country. We organize the data to support the work of researchers.
- Research – We carry out research to evaluate the effectiveness of new models for access to justice. We conduct our own projects. We are a liaison between social scientists, court officials, and the legal aid bar. We convened an expert working group of academics and reformers to recommend “national access to justice indicators” in support the federal government’s initiative to implement Goal 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda in the U.S.. Goal 16 calls on all countries, including the U.S., to track data and use indicators to expand access to justice. The experts’ recommended indicators are live on-line here.
- New Models – We help create new models for access to justice, including civil right to counsel models, technology-first models, and new models involving “advocates” and “navigators” who are not lawyers.
- Language Access – We work to ensure that courts, lawyers, litigants, and members of the public value language access in civil and criminal proceedings. Our Justice Index presents findings on adoption by the states of best policies for interpreting and translating services, and offers government officials and activists an advocacy platform from which to press for reform.
- Legal Education – We work to integrate access to justice more deeply into legal education, including by expanding pro bono involvement of students and professors. We co-chair the Access to Justice Initiative at Fordham Law School.
- On December 1, 2016, NCAJ in partnership with the Columbia Human Rights Institute posted Recommended Access to Justice Indicators for Implementation of Goal 16 of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in the United States, based on a Consultation co-coordinated by NCAJ and CHRI that brought together experts on access to justice with officials in federal agencies comprising the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (“WH-LAIR”).
- On October 19, 2016, NCAJ hosted a videotaped program “Where the Civil and Criminal Justice Systems Meet” as part of its move to Fordham Law School and the launch of Fordham’s school-wide Access to Justice Initiative.
- Civil access to justice, view the interview with NCAJ’s Executive Director, David Udell, on Bob Herbert’s Op-Ed.TV!
- Check out NCAJ’s new Justice Index! It’s in the news and in this US Dept of Justice report! with more news coverage here.
We hope you will learn more about NCAJ’s mission and activities in working to assure that all people are able to protect their families and their rights in our American justice system.