Monday, February 5, 2018
We might be forgiven for thinking that the Department of Justice would prioritize expanding access to justice. Instead, the New York Times reports, the DOJ's Access to Justice initiative, started in 2010, has been essentially shuttered, with no staff and no support from the Department. The New York Times' calls to the DOJ for an explanation were unanswered.
The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, one of the A2J office's accomplishments, also appears to have gone dark. The material on the Roundtable's website is archived. Its last publication -- pushed out in January 2017 -- is an exploration of A2J indicators relevant to U.S. efforts to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 on access to justice.
Will this move by DOJ eventually trigger scrutiny by the international community? Will it give countries where access to justice is a fiction more cover for their human right violations? The existence of the Access to Justice office was not a secret -- the US had touted it, and NGOs had praised it (while calling for more funding) in several reports to human rights bodies.
NGOs like the National Center for Access to Justice will carry on this work, to the extent that they can, and local governments have taken great strides in recent years to expand access to counsel. But the absence of a partner in DOJ, and the apparent lack of DOJ commitment to the issue, is likely to hinder progress both domestically and internationally -- sad news when access to justice should be an issue that garners bipartisan and universal support in the U.S.