Accessibility: A Rule of Law Issue

This summer, I attended the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago. There were no Uniform Acts on the House of Delegates’ agenda, but one ABA event made a point of real significance to Uniform Law Commissioners.

The ABA House of Delegates Committee on Issues of Concern to the Profession presented TED-style talks on the future of legal services at the August 3 session of the House.

Click here for link to the video.

The point was simple: a justice system must be accessible to all. Change is needed to make that happen.

Traditionally, access to justice has focused on the ability to get fair dispute resolution and has been considered an issue for courts and bar associations, not a matter of ULC concern. The ABA speakers addressed the issue in that light. They talked about the rising tide of pro se litigants and the need for non-traditional means of access to the courts, like reforming procedural barriers and permitting licensed legal technicians.

While these may not be considered fundamental ULC issues, access to justice is important and well within our wheelhouse. We have long worked at making the law — as distinguished from the courts — accessible.

In fact, my own interest in Uniform Laws goes back to my law school courses on the Uniform Commercial Code. I can remember thinking that a substantial virtue of the UCC was that it gathered the rules relating to commercial transactions in one place, where lawyers and business people alike could read them.

As the courts approach it, access to justice translates into the ability to get legal disputes fairly resolved. Being able to understand one’s legal rights and responsibilities is an “access to justice” fundamental that comes before dispute resolution.

As the Late Honorable Tom Bingham put it: “The law must be accessible and so far as possible intelligible, clear and predictable.”[1] Bingham described it a number of different ways, but it all comes down to this:

Elementary justice or, to use the concept often cited by the [the Court of Justice of the European Communities], the need for legal certainty demands that the rules by which the citizen is to be bound should be ascertainable by him (or, more realistically, by a competent lawyer advising him) by reference to identifiable sources that are publically available.”[2]

Is this too much to ask?

Since our founding in 1892, Uniform Law Commissioners have worked hard to find and write fair rules that reasonably balance the legitimate interests of all stakeholders.

We know that to make Uniform Laws enactable, and to make justice accessible, we must draft statutes that are not just fair and reasonable, but are also clear and certain.

Rich Cassidy, President, ULC

[1] T. Bingham, The Rule of Law at 38 (Allen Lane: London 2010)(Baron Bingham was successively Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and Senior Law Lord of the United Kingdom).

[2] Fothergill v. Monarch Airlines Ltd. [1981] AC 251, 279 G. (Lord Diplock)(quoted by Bingham at 39).

Accessibility: A Rule of Law Issue

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