From The Washington Post: For Complete Post, Click Here…
It’s a given that criminal defendants in the United States are entitled to legal representation, free of charge if they cannot afford it — a right enshrined by the Supreme Court nearly six decades ago and then expanded to cover even minor cases in which incarceration is unlikely. Yet in courts across the country, poverty-stricken litigants in noncriminal cases routinely face life-shattering outcomes, including jail time, without ever seeing a lawyer or receiving basic legal advice.
Those cases include disputes in which the stakes could not be higher: forfeiture of parental rights; eviction or foreclosure; danger from abusive spouses and domestic partners; and, in guardianship cases, the loss of control over property, and even liberty. In child-support cases, defendants are routinely incarcerated, for days, weeks or months without recourse to legal assistance.
All of this is an offense to justice.
Most European countries have long-standing rules granting a right to counsel to litigants in property and monetary cases, as well as ones in which life and liberty hang in the balance. In England, Parliament acted more than 500 years ago to ensure that paupers would be provided lawyers when suing in King Henry VII’s courts; that right found its way into laws in some of the original 13 colonies.
In today’s United States, lawmakers and judges have carved out a hodgepodge, varying wildly from state to state and even by locality, under which certain at-risk individuals may qualify for court-appointed counsel in some types of civil matters. In most states, for instance, that’s the case when authorities seek to remove children permanently from their parents and send them to foster care, owing to alleged neglect or abuse. In a handful of big cities, other laws enacted in recent years grant a right to counsel to tenants facing eviction, an event that often triggers a cascade of other problems, such as homelessness.