This week, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (ATJ Commission) announced the launch of its website, www.atjil.org. This website contains legal information, standardized court forms, and resources for court staff who interact with SRLs and Limited English Proficient (LEP) litigants regularly.
The number of SRLs in Illinois has been rising rapidly. In 2019, SRLs filed about 90,000 civil cases in Illinois, according to the 2019 Illinois Courts Annual Report. At the appellate court level, 41% of civil appeals filed statewide last year were filed by SRLs.
The website is part of the ATJ Commission’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan, which outlines principles and initiatives aimed at enhancing access to justice and improving the experience of those who access the courts.
“This website is a necessary step in ensuring SRLs, LEP litigants, and court staff are connected with the resources that the Commission has developed to help a person understand and navigate the civil court system,” said Alison D. Spanner, Assistant Director of the Access to Justice Division at the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC).
Information gap for SRLs
In 2019, the ATJ Commission interviewed SRLs about their experiences with the judicial system, which revealed frustration around attempts to use the judicial system without the help of a lawyer.
“I think there should be…a walkthrough of what you would want to do because you are representing yourself. And there was no information anywhere. I had to find that information out when I was already in court and would lose because…it [was too late],” commented one participant.
To fill the information gap, the ATJ Commission outlined plans to continue developing accessible self-help services and resources for court users, court stakeholders, and justice partners assisting court users. The next phase of the ATJ Commission’s work is to ensure the resources get into the hands of those who need them the most. As a first step, the new website, designed to be easy to navigate, includes information for court users on how to start, respond to, and appeal a case, as well as plain language court forms to aid with legal issues.
For court stakeholders, like judges, clerks, court staff, interpreters, lawyers, and law students, the website provides resources including the AOIC’s Court Interpreter Registry, instructions to litigants about how to appear remotely, and information to assist lawyers who want to offer limited scope representation as part of their service offerings, among others.
The website can be translated into Spanish, and many of the resources are available in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Polish, and Arabic.
Enhancing Equal Access to Justice
The Illinois Supreme Court established the ATJ Commission in 2012 to promote, facilitate, and enhance equal access to justice with an emphasis on access to the Illinois civil courts and administrative agencies for all people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.
The Commission is composed of 11 Commissioners who are appointed for three-year terms. The Supreme Court appoints seven members, while The Chicago Bar Foundation, Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, and Illinois Bar Foundation each name a Commissioner. Justice Thomas L. Kilbride serves as the Supreme Court liaison.
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