Access to Justice Division | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts
(312) 793-1335 (Chicago Office)
Alison Spanner, Assistant Director
The Access to Justice Division (Formerly the Civil Justice Division) was established in January 2014. The Access to Justice Division's objective is to help the legal system efficiently deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all court users, particularly to those who are low-income and vulnerable. The Access to Justice Division also supports the work of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (ATJ Commission), and works collaboratively with the ATJ Commission and its subcommittees to promote access to justice within the Illinois courts. Moreover, Access to Justice Division staff work closely with the other Divisions of the Administrative Office and with other Access to Justice system stakeholders to improve the justice delivery systems that serve low-income, limited English proficient, self-represented and vulnerable litigants.
The Access to Justice Division's current priorities include: (1) developing statewide standardized forms for simpler civil legal problems and basic procedural functions; (2) providing language access services and support to assist state courts in addressing language barriers and improving interpreter services; (3) developing training materials and education programs for courts, clerks and other judicial stakeholders to assist with interacting with self-represented litigants and limited English proficient parties and witnesses; (4) developing statewide appellate resources for self-represented litigants; and (5) expanding statewide Access to Justice data collection, research and analysis to aid in the development of innovative strategies to close the gap between the need for and the availability of quality legal assistance.
The Access to Justice Division partners with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Forms Committee (Forms Committee) and its various subcommittees to develop standardized, simplified forms that — once promulgated by the Forms Committee — must be accepted by state courts. Litigants who use the statewide standardized forms will be able to solve basic legal problems without the assistance of an attorney. At present, the Division is supporting the work of 10 subcommittees developing forms in appellate, criminal records relief, divorce, eviction, name change, orders of protection, small claims, civil asset forfeiture, civil procedures, and criminal procedures. Before finalizing any forms, drafts are sent to public user testing, reviewed by both the substantive subcommittee and the full Forms Committee, posted on the Court's website for public comment, shared with chief circuit judges for feedback and notice is provided to circuit and appellate court clerks and bar associations statewide.
The Access to Justice Division's language access efforts seek to promote initiatives and reforms to serve the growing number of people with limited English proficiency (LEP) participating in legal proceedings in state court. The Division also works with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Language Access Committee to develop statewide standards and policies for courts and judges, and resources for LEP litigants. In 2014, the Court adopted the Illinois Supreme Court Language Access Policy and Code of Interpreter Ethics, which state that Illinois courts should provide interpreters for LEP litigants and witnesses in all civil and criminal proceedings and court-annexed proceedings. In support of the Court's Language Access Policy, the Access to Justice Division administers a robust interpreter certification program. Foreign language and sign language interpreters that complete certification requirements are listed on the AOIC Court Interpreter Registry, which currently has 372 certified interpreters in 33 languages. In 2015, only 25% of state court interpretations used interpreters on the Registry. In 2018, this number increased to 66%.
Training Materials and Educational Programs
The Access to Justice Division works with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Court Guidance and Training Committee (Court Guidance and Training Committee) to develop and maintain training materials and educational programs on access to justice issues. In 2019, the Access to Justice Division conducted training for clerks, court staff, and justice partners like public libraries in many individual counties focusing on the distinction between legal information and legal advice. During each of these trainings, there was additional discussion of how assisting with e-filing information falls on that spectrum. We developed and then distributed a desk card for clerks and court staff and a bench card for judges about the changes to the fee waiver statute creating partial fee waivers and a waiver option for criminal assessments. The Access to Justice Division was also involved in planning several multi-disciplinary access to justice trainings for the 2020 Judicial Education Conference on language access, self-represented litigants, and fee waivers.
Appellate Resource Program
The Access to Justice Division’s Appellate Resource Program seeks to assist self-represented litigants in civil appeals throughout the state. Since the AOIC hired a Senior Program Manager in 2017 to oversee the initiative, the division has worked with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Appellate Committee, Appellate Court Administrative Committee, as well as appellate clerks and research directors from all appellate districts to develop self-help materials. The Access to Justice Division updated the ATJ Commission’s Appellate Self-Help Guide to reflect current law and e-filing requirements. In addition, a dedicated self-help page was launched on the Illinois Courts’ website. It features detailed resources to assist SRLs in civil appeals, such as a comprehensive FAQ section, e-filing manuals, a simplified process overview, and links to resources throughout the state to help litigants navigate an appeal. In March 2019, the Access to Justice Division launched a pilot project in the First Appellate District to assist SRLs with their civil appeal. After this pilot, The Access to Justice Division expects to better understand questions litigants have about the civil appellate process, barriers to completing their appeal, and to obtain more specific data on outcomes. This data will then be used to better inform stakeholders and to create additional self-help materials. Finally, the program is partnering with the Public Interest Law Initiative to launch a virtual help desk for civil appeals. Low-income litigants with a legal problem can submit their questions through the website and have them answered by a lawyer. This is be the first-ever appellate help desk for SRLs in Illinois and it is expected to launch in September 2020.
The Access to Justice Commission seeks to create, maintain, and support a statewide network of court partners focused on serving self-represented litigants. This endeavor started with Illinois JusticeCorps, which was first piloted in 2009 and expanded to cover more jurisdictions. Currently, the program serves 13 courthouses in 11 judicial circuits. In 2017, we launched the Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator (Coordinator) grant program. Coordinators serve as a bridge, linking their courthouses with others throughout the state to share ideas, develop new resources, and establish programs for assisting self-represented and limited English proficient litigants. In 2019, we had representatives from 17 of the 24 judicial circuits participate in the network.