Friday, March 13, 2015
Risa Kaufman, Columbia Law School of Law
In a strong example of how human rights can advance domestic social justice advocacy efforts, the New York City Bar Association’s Pro Bono and Legal Services and Housing Court Committees issued a joint report last month drawing on human rights as support for pending legislation that would provide for a right to counsel in New York City housing court.
International law recognizes that legal representation is essential to safeguarding fair, equal, and meaningful access to the legal system, and critical to safeguarding other human rights. The City Bar’s Report details recent recommendations by the UN human rights treaty bodies that the U.S. do more to ensure access to legal representation in cases where basic human needs are stake. The Report also highlights general statements by UN treaty bodies and UN Special Rapporteurs on the importance of access to legal representation more generally and its impact on other human rights, along with the jurisprudence of other jurisdictions protecting the right to counsel in basic needs cases.
The proposed New York City legislation (four different bills are currently pending) would provide a right to counsel in housing court for low-income tenants in New York City who are facing loss of housing through eviction, ejectment or foreclosure. The Bar Committees offer support for one of these bills, Intro 0214-2014, with the recommendation that the income eligibility requirement be raised. It’s heartening to see the organized bar embrace international human rights to strengthen its advocacy on a local issue and mainstream efforts to bring human rights home!