Access to Justice: Why Focus On This Issue In an Era With So Many Existential Crises

Sometimes we advocates for access to justice quietly admit to each other that with so many other issues threatening our planet, the poor, and our democracy, that it is hard to argue for access to justice a a funding priority.

Without in any way undercutting the importance of all those issues, I think I may have figured out why access to justice remains such an overwhelming issue.  Interestingly, my take may suggest a way of talking about the issue that will appeal to the right as much as, or perhaps even more than, to the left.  It is simply this:

Access to justice is about ensuring that when the coercive power of the state intervenes or is called upon in relationships between individuals and, organizations, and indeed the state, that the outcome is determined on the merits, not on other factors.

As  very gross generalization, to which we can all find counter examples, criminal access issues arise when the state tries to use its coercive power to discipline an individual. Civil access is about everything else, but really when one party or anther, or both, call on the threat of the coercive power of the state to reorder their relationship.  As part of that process, the legal system has to decide, before deploying that coercive power, what happened in the case, and what the law permits and requires.  It is that decision-making process that then provides legitimacy to the specific use of the coercive power of the state.

Moreover, it is the availability of that coercive power and the process of deciding if and when to deploy it, that provide legitimacy to the state as a whole, and particularly to the availability of the coercive power.

For every political position (other than anarchist), that makes the accessibility of the justice system critical not only to their theory of the state, but also to having the means to do what they believe should be done by the state, in every area of life.

So, the trick is finding the words that will appeal to the universality of this general support.

What makes it hard is that it is an appeal to beliefs about process, not about outcomes, which makes it a harder sell to less-educated low information voters (who do not necessarily find resonance in process concepts such as evolution, statistical analysis, market dynamics, or cross-examination).  But fairness arguments, and those that appeal to the placing of limits upon the power of the state, do appeal strongly to such voters.

So, maybe the highest common denominator here is about guiding and constraining the power of courts so that they can protect us all.

Making sure courts are fair and truly open to all.

Making sure courts are there to help, not hurt.

Giving everyone the information and help they need to keep courts honest, fair and available to all when needed.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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