Coalition urges formation of committee to address legal needs of poor

The Pennsylvania Civil Legal Justice Coalition recommended to the state's Senate Judiciary Committee the creation of a commission that would further study ways to expand access to legal services for poor and low-income individuals and family.

During a special hearing before the committee Tuesday morning, representatives from the coalition presented a report they say shows access to civil legal services in basic human needs cases provides significant economic and social benefits for litigants and their communities.

"The unmet need for civil legal assistance is profoundly impacting vulnerable Pennsylvanians and costing taxpayers millions of dollars by increasing homelessness, failing to prevent domestic violence and increasing poverty," said the representatives in a press release. "One recent study found that for every dollar spent on legal aid in Pennsylvania, there is an $11 return to the state and its residents."

In Toward Equal Justice for All: Report of the Civil Legal Justice Coalition, the 30-member coalition documents evidence presented at three statewide hearings held in 2013 by the Senate Judiciary Committee to explore the state of access to justice in Pennsylvania.

"Equal access to legal representation is one of the most critical justice issues we face today," said Senator Stewart Greenleaf, chair of the judiciary committee. "I am pleased to see the legal community come together to offer their insights and recommendations to the Judiciary Committee."

The coalition's report recommendations include:

  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court establish an Access to Justice Commission to serve as a vehicle for studying and implementing measures to expand access to justice, including proposing and promoting strategies to adequately increase levels of public, private and volunteer resources and funding for civil legal aid providers in Pennsylvania. Thirty-two states currently have such commissions.

  • Pennsylvania's legislature annually appropriates an additional $50 million for civil legal services to adequately address the immediate crisis in access to justice.

  • Pennsylvania work toward establishing a right to counsel in civil legal matters in which fundamental human needs are at stake.

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