In February 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court appointed the third Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission (Third Commission), after the end of the Second Commission. Charged with providing leadership, vision, and coordination in the search for “equal justice for all persons in the Commonwealth,” the Third Commission adopted a Mission Statement that focused on five core strategies:
- Increasing justice by improving the effectiveness of, and the funding for, civil legal services organizations;
- Increasing services provided by private attorneys;
- Improving assistance to unrepresented litigants;
- Improving access to justice beyond the courts, such as in administrative agencies; and
- Exploring the role of non-lawyers in the provision of appropriate civil legal assistance.
This report provides an update on the Third Commission’s ongoing work and accomplishments in each of these five core strategies. This year, the Third Commission has had significant victories in various initiatives:
- Received one of seven Public Welfare Foundation/Justice For All grants to develop a strategic action plan for improving access to justice throughout the Commonwealth;
- Successfully advocated for statewide expansion of the Housing Court in the Massachusetts budget for Fiscal Year 2018;
- Spearheaded the allocation of an additional $8.3 million in funding for civil legal aid for victims of crime over the next two years from Federal Victims of Crime Act funds;
- Expanded the Civil Appeals Pro Bono Program — which has served 295 individuals with the help of 132 pro bono attorneys from 13 different firms and in-house legal departments since its inception in May 2015 — to cover the entire Commonwealth;
- Continued to develop the Access to Justice Fellows program, whereby 74 retired lawyers and judges have provided over 76,000 hours of pro bono service to over 50 different nonprofit entities since its inception five years ago; and
- Endorsed the report of the Commission’s Access to Attorneys Committee, which studied how the private bar could meet the legal needs of litigants who cannot afford an attorney, including the use of fee-shifting statutes, limited assistance representation, and further education and training.
The full Annual Report can be found here, as well as in the Library section of this website