Md. Access to Justice Commission supports “civil Gideon”

The Maryland Judiciary announces in a press release: “A ‘civil right to counsel,’ also referred to as Civil Gideon, extends the right to be represented by a lawyer in civil cases that deal with the most basic of human needs, such as shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody.

In a new report, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission notes that only about 22 percent of the civil legal needs of poor and low-income Maryland residents are being met. The Commission estimates that each year in Maryland, nearly 350,000 people appear in court proceedings involving basic human needs cases. These Marylanders, mostly individuals and families with low incomes, come to court without the benefit of counsel and usually without help from the existing voluntary legal services system. . . . The estimated cost for a program that assures lawyers for critical civil cases is $106.6 million, the Commission notes in the report.

The Commission also urges that the creation of a right to counsel initiative should not divert existing funding away from the current civil legal services delivery system, which includes approximately 35 organizations in Maryland providing some legal services in civil matters. The report tries to envision the amount of additional funding required to fulfill the mandate of a civil right to counsel in these critical types of cases. ‘Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland,’ is part of the Commission’s latest annual report, which was published this month. It’s available online through the Commission’s website.

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