Partnership Provides Accessible Legal Aid
Project partners from the Hawai’i State Judiciary, the Hawai’i State Public Library System, and the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i joined together Monday to announce the latest developments in the ongoing effort to improve access to the courts for people of all income levels, with special emphasis on Hawai’i’s self-represented litigants.
Ten new court forms were made available online, and 10 seminars titled “Know your Rights” were completed state-wide.
“One of the greatest challenges to equal justice today is the lack of effective access to our civil justice system. People who have low or even moderate incomes cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them in their civil legal cases,” Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald explained. “As a result, every year in Hawai’i, thousands of people must represent themselves in our civil courts and try to navigate a system that is foreign to the average layperson. Many of them simply give up. For this reason we have continued to pursue projects and programs that make Hawai’i’s courts more accessible.”
State Librarian Stacey Aldrich said that the resources available to people have been greatly increased.
“Through the Self-Help Interactive Forms Expansion Project, we have increased the resources that enable people to do things for themselves,” said Aldrich. “Twenty-three of the most frequently used civil legal forms are now available online, along with state-of-the-art software that takes users through a step-by-step question and answer process to complete the forms easily and correctly. For those who do not own a personal computer or have Internet access, the Hawaii State Public Library System provides access to the “A2J” self-help forms on 800 library computers and 250 netbooks statewide.”
A grant from the State Justice Institute and previous funding given to the Legal Aid from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant helped to fund the Judiciary’s Self-Help Interactive Form Expansion project.
Training sessions on the new software have been given to staff members at public libraries and Legal Aid attorneys hosted 10 free “Know Your Rights” briefings across the state. Some of the topics covered at the briefings include landlord-tenant, estate planning, and long-term care.
“We want to thank all the librarians across the state who helped make this partnership a success. From hosting and helping organize the ‘Know Your Rights’ presentations at their local libraries, to directing library patrons to the legal resources and information available online, this project would not have been possible without their commitment to increasing access to justice in our community,” M. Nalani Fujimori Kaina, Executive Director of Legal Aid said. “We also want to thank our partners at the Judiciary who were instrumental in securing the grant from the State Justice Institute to allow us to further develop these forms. These key partnerships have allowed us to help more people gain greater access to our legal system.”
The partnerships success will allow for continuous support from Legal Aid in local libraries. Additionally, “Know Your Rights” presentations will be planned at local libraries and efforts will be made with the Judiciary to create more online court forms.
Through the use of technology, individuals who otherwise may not have a choice but to navigate the legal system on their own can now receive help with their legal problems.
“As part of our Access to Justice Initiative, making the courts easier for the public to navigate is a top priority for the Hawai’i State Judiciary,” said Chief Justice Recktenwald. “The Self-Help Interactive Forms Expansion Project is a part of that effort. We extend our special thanks to Access to Justice Chairman Daniel R. Foley and Retired Associate Justice Simeon R. Acoba for their continued leadership and support in making the legal system more accessible to the public.”
The new “A2J” self-help interactive forms are also available online at Legal Aid’s LawHelp website and the Hawai’i State Judiciary’s website.