Access to justice in Illinois: What court personnel & others can (and can’t) do to assist you with your case
In 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court announced the formation of the Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. In taking this action, the Court recognized that language differences, disability, and low- or no-income status can be significant barriers that prevent citizens from accessing the courts. <http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/SupremeCourt/Committees/Commn_on_Access_to_Justice.asp>.
Through the establishment of the Commission, the Court sought to promote, facilitate and enhance equal access to justice with an emphasis on access to the Illinois civil courts and administrative agencies for all people, particularly the poor and vulnerable. Illinois Supreme Court Rules 10-100. The Commission accomplished its initial goals and in 2015 the Illinois Supreme Court approved the Illinois Supreme Court Policy on Assistance to Court Patrons by Circuit Clerks, Court Staff, Law Librarians, and Court Volunteers. This policy offers guidance to these individuals when “acting in a non-lawyer capacity as to what services may an may not be offered to assist ‘court patrons’ to achieve fair and efficient resolution of their cases.” The policy further provides that services “shall be provided in a non-discriminatory manner to all applicants.”
The policy outlines the following services that circuit clerks, court staff, law librarians, and court volunteers acting in a non-lawyer capacity are permitted to engage in:
1. Provide legal information about court rules, court terminology and court procedures, but not limited to providing information regarding; requirements for service, filing, scheduling hearings and compliance with local procedure;
2. Inform court patrons of legal resources and referrals if available;
3. Encourage self-represented litigants to obtain legal advice from a lawyer;
4. Provide information about security protocols at the courthouse and directions around the courthouse, including, but not limited to, photocopier and telephone locations, children’s waiting room locations and other courthouse offices;
5. Offer educational classes and informational materials;
6. Assist court patrons in identifying approved forms and related instructions based on the court patron’s description of what he or she wants to request from the court;
7. Record verbatim information provided by the self-represented litigant on approved forms if that person is unable to complete the forms due to disability or literacy barriers;
8. Review finished forms to determine whether forms are complete, including checking for signature, notarization, correct county name and case number;
9. Provide assistance to litigants pursuing self-guided research;
10. Provide docket information;
11. Inform court patrons of the process for requesting a foreign language or sign language interpreter;
12. At the direction of the court, review documents for completeness prior to hearing;
13. Provide a court patron with access to a case file that has not been restricted by statute, rule or order, or instructions about how to obtain such access;
14. Provide the same services and information to all parties to an action, as requested;
15. Provide services based on the assumption that the information provided by the court patron is accurate and complete;
16. Provide other services consistent with the intent of the policy.
The policy also specifically prohibits circuit clerks, court staff, law librarians, and court volunteers acting in a non-lawyer capacity from the following:
1. Recommending whether a case should be brought to court or comment on the merits of a pending case;
2. Give an opinion about what will happen if a case is brought to court;
3. Represent litigants in court;
4. Provide legal analysis, strategy or advice to a court patron, or perform legal research other than assistance in self-guided legal research for any court patron;
5. Disclose information in violation of a court order, statute, rule, case law or court directive;
6. Deny a self -represented litigant access to the court or any services provided to other patrons.
7. Tell a litigant anything he/she would not repeat in the presence of any other party involved in the case;
8. Refer a litigant to a specific lawyer or law firm for fee-based representation; or
9. Otherwise engage in the unauthorized practice of law as prohibited by law.
For more information on this policy: <http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/SupremeCourt/Policies/Pdf/Safe_Harbor_Policy.pdf>.
For more information on access to justice in the Illinois Courts: <http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Administrative/CivilJustice.asp>
For more information on language access services and support: <http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/CivilJustice/LanguageAccess/default.asp>
Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission
CONTACT INFORMATION (questions or request for additional information):
Language Access Services Specialist: 312.793.2013 (phone) / 312.793.0740 (fax)
Self-Represented Litigant Services Specialist: 312.793.2305 (phone) / 312.793.0740 (fax)
Forms Officer : 312.793.3859 (phone) / 312.793.0740 (fax)