October 29, 2018
The Civil Justice Division of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts has a new name: the Access to Justice Division. With this new name comes a recognition that much of our work crosses between civil and criminal law. In most ways, the Access to Justice Division operates with the same core mission, but this new name signals that much of the Division’s work impacts not only the civil courts, but increasingly affects criminal and traffic court proceedings, too.
A few examples of this intersection are as follows:
- A critical priority of the Access to Justice Division remains language access — providing language access services and support to assist courts in addressing language barriers and improving interpreter services. Data demonstrates that the majority of court language access needs have been in the traffic and criminal court settings.
- This year, for the first time, Illinois JusticeCorps has expanded to serve a criminal courthouse — helping victims of crime, witnesses, family members, criminal defendants and probationers at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse within the Circuit Court of Cook County. Court patrons are now able to find available resources and navigational assistance from the Illinois JusticeCorps volunteers who staff the information desk located at the building’s main entrance.
- Even our standardized forms work now includes a nexus between criminal and civil law. This year, the ATJ Commission Forms Committee and Access to Justice Division have begun working together to develop a criminal fee waiver standardized form, as part of the new Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act.
- The ATJ Commission and Access to Justice Division have embarked on a new Community Trust initiative (more on this in upcoming newsletter columns) in which we have begun to grapple with how we can do our share to earn the trust and confidence of the public whom we serve. Understanding the challenges faced by community members through listening and outreach is critical for our court system. We have learned from several initial town hall meetings in the south suburbs of Cook County that community members do not distinguish between criminal and civil law, and in order to meaningfully engage in this community trust effort it must involve a critical examination of the branch as a whole.
Excitingly, the Access to Justice Division will also be providing staff support to the new Illinois Judicial Conference, which will be embarking on branch-wide strategic planning within the next few months. Ensuring access to justice is fundamental to a court system, and we are excited to be part of this new Illinois Judicial Conference effort.