Other NCCRC Work
ABA, State Bars, and Access to Justice Commissions
The NCCRC was instrumental in the unanimous 2006 passage of American Bar Association Resolution 112A, which "urges federal, state, and territorial governments to provide legal counsel as a matter of right at public expense to low income persons in those categories of adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody, as determined by each jurisdiction." The resolution was co-sponsored by thirteen state and local bar associations, and the principles therein were subsequently adopted by an additional six state bar associations and five access to justice commissions.
In 2018, we authored Resolution 114 in cooperation with the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID), which calls for a right to counsel whenever physical liberty is at stake, no matter whether it’s civil or criminal and regardless of whether the plaintiff is the state or not. Resolution 114 was adopted yesterday at the ABA 2018 Midyear Meeting.
2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right to counsel for indigent defendants in criminal cases. Yet the United States remains a long way from delivering on the promises of Gideon. Moreover, those failures create additional civil problems (such as when people improperly convicted lose their housing or benefits as a result of the conviction), which increases the need for a civil right to counsel. At the same time, the lack of a civil right to counsel means that some indigent civil litigants wind up in the criminal justice system (such as when homeless persons are arrested for vagrancy, or a person unable to pay child support is jailed criminally). There has in fact been a fair bit written about these crossover problems, and the NCCRC has a flyer explaining how we see the connections.
As a way to address these crossover issues, the NCCRC helped coordinate over 30 events in 2013 that drew attention to the intermingling of criminal and civil right to counsel issues.
Addressing International Law / Human Rights
There are a number of different treaties ratified by the United States that make the provision of counsel mandatory in certain civil cases (more about this is on our international right to counsel page). NCCRC is currently involved in several different efforts to raise awareness about these treaty obligations (like the CERD and ICCPR) and encourage the United States to meet its obligations in a variety of different ways. It also has worked with American University's Center for Human RIghts and Humanitarian Law to contribute to the "right to counsel" chapter of its Human Rights Handbook for Attorneys.
Additionally, the NCCRC participated in a Civil Society Consultation with the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable regarding Goal 16 of the U.N.’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which relates to access to justice. The meeting was to discuss what indicators the United States government should use to measure its progress on access to justice. The NCCRC and many of its participants attended the consultation and provided written/oral testimony. A report has been compiled of all the testimony, and the NCCRC’s testimony is on page 102 of the report.
Supporting Efforts in Maryland
Ever since the Maryland Court of Appeals narrowly avoided finding a right to counsel in basic human needs civil cases in 2003, the NCCRC has been supporting efforts in Maryland to explore and expand the right to counsel. The Maryland Access to Justice Commission is at the forefront of many of those efforts, and its efforts resulted in new legislation that established a legislative study committee on civil right to counsel. ATJC Executive Director Pam Ortiz appeared on WYPR 88.1 to talk about the task force, which released its report.
Spreading the Word
An important part of the NCCRC's work is speaking to the media and general public about the importance of a right to counsel in basic human needs civil cases. Our media page has just some of the press coverage of the issue and NCCRC. And in 2017, NCCRC staff presented at:
- The first-ever University of California system’s National Public Service Law Conference;
- The second-ever Jail Research Network conference (to talk about how the Survey of Inmates at Local Jails, one of the most influential surveys in making policy, could accommodate questions relating to counsel in civil cases);
- The Housing Justice Network Conference;
- The University of Wisconsin Law School’s symposium on public interest mobilization;
- Webinars by the National Consumer Law Center (archived recording) on the right to counsel in fees/fines cases and the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign on the right to counsel as a prevention-of-homelessness tool.