“Today, the current deficiencies in our indigent defense system and the gaps in legal services for the poor and middle class constitute not just a problem, but a crisis. And this crisis appears as difficult and intransigent as any now before us.”
Attorney General Eric Holder
Remarks at the Shriver Center Awards Dinner
October 14, 2010
Millions of people in the United States cannot get legal help that is often critical to their well-being and freedom. Fifty million Americans qualify for federally funded civil legal aid, yet more than half of those who seek help are turned away due to lack of resources. In the criminal justice system, public defenders handle caseloads that far exceed recommended limits, jeopardizing their ability to provide representation that meets even constitutionally minimum standards.
A legal system that promises access to justice for all should not tolerate such inequities.
The U.S. Department of Justice established the Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) in March 2010 to address the access-to-justice crisis in the criminal and civil justice system. ATJ’s mission is to help the justice system efficiently deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth and status. The Office’s staff works within the Department of Justice, across federal agencies, and with state, local, and tribal justice system stakeholders to increase access to counsel and legal assistance and to improve the justice delivery systems that serve people who are unable to afford lawyers. ATJ also serves as the staff of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable.
ATJ is guided by three principles:
- Promoting Accessibility — eliminating barriers that prevent people from understanding and exercising their rights.
- Ensuring Fairness — delivering fair and just outcomes for all parties, including those facing financial and other disadvantages.
- Increasing Efficiency — delivering fair and just outcomes effectively, without waste or duplication.
To translate these principles into action, ATJ pursues strategies to leverage and better allocate justice resources, and works to:
- Advance new statutory, policy, and practice changes that support development of quality indigent defense and civil legal aid delivery systems at the state and federal level;
- Promote less lawyer-intensive and court-intensive solutions to legal problems; and
- Expand research on innovative strategies to close the gap between the need for, and the availability of, quality legal assistance.
Access to Justice Accomplishments