My turn: Justice for all
As our country celebrates our founding anniversary this weekend with fireworks and parades, we’ll also reflect on some of the foundational core values ââthat bring Americans together – the pursuit of life, freedom and justice for all.
Most of us probably know that those accused of a crime have the right to a lawyer. Public defenders represent defendants who cannot afford lawyers. But in the civilian justice system, where people can challenge an illegal eviction or seizure, or a victim of domestic violence can apply for a protection order, you don’t have the right to a lawyer if you can’t afford one. .
Access to justice in civil cases should not be a privilege for a few. For decades, thousands of New Hampshire residents benefit each year from the work of NH Legal Assistance (NHLA), the NH Bar Association’s pro bono referral system, and the Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC), programs that work together towards an objective of ensuring access to justice for all.
Although New Hampshire’s civil legal aid system is widely respected, we know that it can be perceived as confusing both for potential clients trying to access the system and for other service providers helping people. in need, as a recent study on civil legal needs illustrates. published by the Access to Justice Commission. That’s why representatives from all three legal aid programs have been working since 2018 to create an even better way to access and deliver these civil legal services in New Hampshire. This improved access model is here: 603 Legal Aid.
Pro Bono and LARC have merged to create a new Civil Legal Aid Gateway that will simplify the process for those seeking help. Legal Aid 603 provides a single point of entry for clients and will ensure a seamless and efficient connection with the appropriate provider and level of service. This new approach will maximize the resources available for civil legal aid and increase the efficiency of the process, which will allow us to serve a larger population.
Legal Aid 603 is more than a merger, it is a transformative change for Civil Legal Aid in New Hampshire. 603 Legal Aid will continue to maintain an online library of resources on the rights of individuals in many types of civil cases, as well as a dynamic volunteer lawyer training program and, soon, increased services by staff lawyers. .
The new program will also partner more closely than ever with the NHLA to ensure access to justice for all in our state. Legal Aid 603 and the NHLA help clients with incomes reaching 200% of the federal poverty line and the elderly, meaning that a family of four earning up to $ 53,000 per year would be eligible for the civil legal aid.
Both programs work exclusively on civil legal issues, not criminal cases. They focus on civil legal matters related to clients’ basic human needs, including evictions, foreclosures, loss of housing benefits, domestic violence, family law, public benefits, including disability social security, SSI, SNAP (food stamps), unemployment and Medicaid, consumer issues, issues facing the elderly like financial abuse and retirement home leave, and youth issues, including school discipline and special education for children at risk of being involved in juvenile justice.
When a person contacts 603 Legal Aid, they can expect a straightforward process. After assessing financial eligibility and identifying the problem, Legal Aid 603 will determine if the person is financially eligible and call about an issue that Civil Legal Aid is working on. From there, Legal Aid 603 will connect the person with the appropriate information, resources and referrals. If a person needs legal representation, 603 Legal Aid can provide direct representation, refer the client to a volunteer lawyer through its pro bono program, or establish a seamless connection with the NHLA or other community partner. .
The NHLA will continue to operate as a traditional law firm, assisting and representing individuals at all levels of judicial and administrative hearings, as well as advocating for changes to laws and rules that affect low-income families. .
Throughout the pandemic, civil legal aid has been there for individuals and families whose lives have been turned upside down by COVID and its financial fallout. From UI claims and evictions to special distance education services, we’ve been there for Granite Staters in this time of need. And with many COVID-related protections set to end soon, civil legal aid will be just as important in the months and years to come. The partnership between NHLA and 603 Legal Aid only strengthens this commitment and our ability to deliver.
Civil legal aid programs receive some state and federal funding, but it is far from sufficient to meet the needs. In New Hampshire, those who are able can advance the cause by donating to the NH Campaign for Legal Services, which raises private funds for 603 Legal Aid and NHLA. It’s time to make the investments we need to ensure that all Granite Staters can access America’s promise of justice for all.
(Sonya Bellafant is the Executive Director of 603 Legal Aid. She lives in Concord. Connect with 603 Legal Aid 24/7 at 603LegalAid.org, or 9 am to 1 pm daily by calling 603 -639-5290.)