Massachusetts Ranks Second in Nation in Justice Index Measuring Access to Justice
BOSTON, MA -- The National Center for Access to Justice today released its 2016 Justice Index, measuring how all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico undertake to ensure justice for all. Massachusetts ranked second in the nation, behind the District of Columbia. Massachusetts ranked eighth when the first Justice Index came out in 2014.
The Justice Index currently reports on four elements of state justice systems that affect access to justice:
- Attorney Access: the number of civil legal aid attorneys serving the poor;
- Self-Representation: services available to assist self-represented litigants;
- Language Assistance: services available to assist people with limited English proficiency; and
- Disability Assistance: services available to assist people with disabilities.
The Justice Index also provides a “composite index” that aggregates data for each of these categories to provide a single comprehensive score.
In 2016, Massachusetts ranks:
- 2nd in services for people without lawyers – up from 8th in 2014.
- 3rd in language access services – up from 20th in 2014.
- 6th in services for people with disabilities – up from 31st in 2014
- 2nd in the composite index.
The increase in Massachusetts's composite rating occurred despite the decline in access to civil legal aid attorneys, where Massachusetts has dropped from 6th in the nation in the number of civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people in poverty to 10th.
"Our rise in the Justice Index reflects our commitment to access to justice and the efforts we have made to improve the quality of justice for the unrepresented, for limited English proficient litigants, and for persons with disabilities," said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants. "This is the result of the dedication and hard work of Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, Court Administrator Harry Spence, our access to justice team Judge Dina Fein and Attorney Erika Rickard, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, and the judges, clerks, housing specialists, probation officers, and court officers who help unrepresented litigants navigate our court system every day. But we are under no illusion that we are where we need to be. Miles traveled; miles to go."
"The Trial Court is dedicated to ensuring that all persons have effective access to justice," said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey. "The rise in the Justice Index reflects this dedication and commitment. We are proud of our achievements and remain steadfast in our efforts toward continuous improvement in the area of access to justice."
"We immediately saw the value of the Justice Index and its data in the service of our mission: justice with dignity and speed," said Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence. "We used the Justice Index to guide our access to justice initiatives."
Since the 2014 Justice Index came out, the Massachusetts court system has identified best practices in addressing the needs of self-represented litigants, litigants with limited English proficiency, and litigants with disabilities. The courts have focused on these priority populations through several new initiatives, including:
- Opening 5 Court Service Centers to provide legal information to self-represented litigants in Boston, Greenfield, Lawrence, Springfield and Worcester
- Expanding and improving the court system website (mass.gov/courts) to include user-friendly self-help information with and multimedia tools and fillable forms
- Translating dozens of court forms into 8 different languages (Arabic, simplified Chinese, Haitian Creole, Khmer, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese) and posting them online at the language access portal.
- Providing outreach and training for attorneys on providing limited assistance representation, where attorneys provide representation for the most critical parts of a client's case, often for a reduced fee.
- Piloting an online guided interview for small claims that answers questions and assists users in filling out the small claims complaint forms