The long-awaited results of the 2016 Justice Index were released at the end of May. The National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Cardozo Law School paints a picture of overall accessibility to the U.S. population in its Justice Index by analyzing data on four major barriers to American justice systems: attorneys available to the poor, assistance available to self-represented litigants, language assistance, and disability assistance. NCAJ collected and analyzed data from every U.S. state and, starting this year, from Puerto Rico. NCAJ hopes that clear, comprehensive and transparent data on the state of access to justice in America will serve as a tool for awareness and accountability and will be used to strengthen best practices for ensuing access to justice systems. Visitors to the Justice Index website can see resource availability and gaps of the most vulnerable populations by viewing interactive maps and graphs.
How is the country performing when it comes to access to justice and where does Maryland stand in comparison to other states? On a 100-point scale, Maryland rose from 20th place in 2014, with a composite score of 56.4, to 4th place this year, with a composite score of 60.38.
With regard to the four individual categories that average into the composite score, Maryland ranks 3rd in providing attorneys available to the poor. Yet, a closer look at the numbers illustrates that there are not enough lawyers for the poor. Nationally there are approximately 40 attorneys for every 10,000 people compared to only 14 attorneys for every 10,000 people living in poverty. In Maryland, there are approximately 40 attorneys for every 10,000 people compared to a mere 1.49 attorneys for every 10,000 people living in poverty. The Anne Arundel County Public Law Library (AACPLL) helps self-represented individuals by hosting a daily Family Law Self-Help Center staffed by Maryland Legal Aid attorneys and a Wednesday Lawyer in the Library program for other civil law concerns.
Maryland ranks 8th in best practices for self-represented litigants with a score of 67.50. It appears that Maryland misses the mark on providing plain English resources, foreclosure assistance, and electronic filing. However, e-filing has recently been introduced to Maryland courts. AACPLL provides many self-help resources and forms for self-represented litigants.
There are over 25 million people with limited proficiency in English in the U.S.. Maryland ranks 7th in helping this population, scoring 73.03 for providing free and certified translators for various family law and housing law hearings. A disparity continues to exist in providing interpreters at Maryland self-help centers and translations on Maryland judiciary websites. At AACPLL, self-help centers access telephone interpreters through Language Line.
Maryland, tied with Minnesota and Missouri, places 2nd, with a score of 86.11, in providing reasonable accommodation and counsel to assure people with disabilities a fair opportunity to be heard. Still, there are no dedicated court employees with mental health training and no certification requirements for sign language interpreters.
All-in-all, there appear to be both accomplishments and deficiencies nationally and statewide. To find out more see the Justice Index 2016 at: http://justiceindex.org/