THE ACCESS TO JUSTICE MOVEMENT IN COLORADO

THE ACCESS TO JUSTICE MOVEMENT IN COLORADO

The National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at University of New York's Cardozo Law School strives to promote equal access to justice so that all people have a fair chance to be heard, regardless of income, whether they have a disability, or what language they speak. The NCAJ is currently working on a project called "The Justice Index.”  Additional information can be found here.

 

The Justice Index lists Colorado in the top five states in the overall composite index, based on the state’s adoption of the best practices for ensuring access to justice in civil and criminal courts.  Colorado is ranked number one for providing disabled individuals access to the courts, and ranks in the top ten states for providing access and guidance to litigants with limited English proficiency. 

 

Colorado ranks 20th for how friendly its courts are to self-represented litigants. However, improvement is still needed in the area of civil legal aid. As of 2013, there were only .56 civil legal aid attorneys available per 10,000 people in the state, putting Colorado in the bottom seven states for this category.

 

According to Colorado Law Weekly, about eighty percent of low-income civil legal needs nationwide go unmet.  There are currently about sixty-one million people who qualify for civil legal assistance nationwide, with about 880,000 of those people living in Colorado.

 

The Colorado Access to Justice Commission, which was established in 2003, is tasked with developing, coordinating, and implementing policy initiatives to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for persons who encounter barriers in gaining access to Colorado's civil justice system.  The Commission recently issued a report on the state of civil legal aid in Colorado, finding that there is a shortage of legal aid attorneys to meet the legal needs of the indigent, and calling for an increase in state funding for civil legal services.

 

The impact of the justice gap on domestic relations and other family law cases is significant.  According to the Court Services Division of the Office of the State Court Administrator, a reported 45,787 parties filed domestic relations cases in Colorado in 2013.  Of those parties, 75 percent, or 34,280 of the filing parties were unrepresented.  75 percent of the responding parties, 17,882 of the 23,648 parties were not represented.  In the Colorado County Civil Courts, about 14 percent of the filing parties are pro se, and a startling 98 percent of responding parties are unrepresented.  The situation is slightly better in Colorado District Courts, with only 15 percent of the filing parties unrepresented by counsel, yet still 56 percent of the responding parties are unrepresented. 

 

Please see the following article by Bridge to Justice Executive Director, Bruce Wiener, The Access to Justice Problem and What Can Be Done About It, for the Boulder County Bar Association September Newsletter. (Aug. 29, 2014), Available at: http://www.boulder-bar.org/documents/BCBA-Newsletter-Sep-2014.pdf.

 

 

RESOURCES

Why Access to Justice Matters, Justice Index. Available at www.justiceindex.org/our-vision/. (Last visited September 19, 2014).

 

Composite Index, Justice Index. Available at www.justiceindex.org/findings/. (Last visited September 19, 2014).

 

Lauren Schmidt & Candace Whitaker, Law Firm Pro Bono: Closing the Justice Gap, Law Week Colorado (June 11, 2014). Available at 

http://www.lawweekonline.com/2014/06/law-firm-pro-bono-closing-the-justice-gap/. (Last visited September 19, 2014).

 

Constance C. Talmage, 2008 Access to Justice Commission Report, Colo. Law, April 2009, at 79. Available at http://www.cobar.org/repository/Access%20to%20Justice/ATJHearing2014.pdf?ID=20129. (Last visited October 10, 2014).

 

Bruce Wiener, The Access to Justice Problem and What Can Be Done About It, for the Boulder County Bar Association September Newsletter. (Aug. 29, 2014), Available at: http://www.boulder-bar.org/documents/BCBA-Newsletter-Sep-2014.pdf.