Talk about a professionalism issue that will make a difference. As you may know, less than a year ago, Illinois became the 29th state to have a Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. The mission is simple: to improve access to justice for low-income and vulnerable people.
The Access to Justice Commission last week held “listening conferences” in Peoria (the Third Appellate District) and in DeKalb (the Second Appellate District). Many providers of legal services, health services and other interested individuals attended these conferences. Many of the comments directly related to several initiatives the Commission members, joined by volunteers from across the state, have already been working on, for example:
- Developing standardized, plain language forms for use in court. Illinois has 102 counties—that doesn’t mean we need 102 versions of the same form for accomplishing simple procedural matters such as name change, orders of protection, or expunging and sealing of records. This common sense change will make the process more user-friendly for litigants and more efficient for their lawyers.
- Suggesting ways to address the burgeoning number of pro se litigants who often are confused about the process. Research tells us that more people are navigating the court system without the benefit of counsel than ever before and their numbers are unlikely to drop. Judges, understandably, do not want to be seen as impartial by advocating for one side or another. The Commission is working on suggestions for training and changes to the rules so that judges feel confident providing practical guidance within the Canons of Ethics.
- Recognizing that limited proficiency in the language our law is conducted in is a barrier to litigants, witnesses and others who are not native English-speakers, a committee is working on ways for our courts to provide services and conduct proceedings so that all people are able to participate. Research shows that nearly 300,000 people in the Second Appellate District (about 72,000 in the Third) are Limited English Proficiency Individuals. Justice requires that they be able to read signs or otherwise avail themselves of the services of our judiciary.
Additional listening conferences are scheduled for May 30 in Champaign, June 5 in Edwardsville and June 13 in Chicago. The Commission wants to hear any and all suggestions from folks who intersect with the judicial system in any way. Please join the dialogue at these events or by contacting the Executive Director of the ATJ Commission Danielle Hirsch, firstname.lastname@example.org or 312.793.2014. Improving our legal system so it is more accessible to the vulnerable is a professionalism issue we should all be promoting!