SPRINGFIELD | Throwing its weight behind a movement to make the justice system more accessible, the Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday created a commission that will study the hurdles that keep some people from getting their day in court.
One of those hurdles is the complexity of legal documents, which can keep people from representing themselves in court even on routine matters. Another is the difficulty of reaching downstate courthouses for people who are poor or disabled.
The court also wants to promote legal self-help centers and assist people in finding affordable legal representation.
"The purpose is to make access to justice a high priority for everyone in the legal system," Chief Justice Kilbride said in a statement Wednesday. "This includes judges, clerks, attorneys, other court personnel and even our law schools."
Kilbride said 26 other states and the District of Columbia already have similar commissions. The Illinois panel is supposed to work with groups that are already trying to improve access, such as the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice.
The executive director of that group, Joseph Dailing, said the civil justice system should be "more user-friendly and accessible for the growing number of people who are coming to the courts without lawyers."
Dailing said poor people are often pulled into the legal system over divorces, rent disputes, consumer complaints and wills. Attorneys are too expensive for them and the legal process is too complex, he said, so people are left with little protection.
The commission could help with that by simplifying procedures and forms for routine legal matters. It could also work to ensure that self-help legal centers around the state are protected or even expanded.
Legal procedures aren't the only roadblock to access. So are physical location and services.
Poor or disabled people in downstate Illinois can find themselves far from the nearest courthouse with no car and no public transportation. People with physical disabilities may not be able to get the help they need.
Technology could help with some of those problems. The IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, for instance, has developed "Access to Justice" software that guides people through some legal procedures, and Illinois Legal Aid Online is another resource.