The Justice Index 2016 Findings, just released by the National Center for Access to Justice, ranks Hawaii among the top three states in the country for practices aimed at making access to justice a reality for all people. The report measures the accessibility of each state’s justice system in four categories: attorney access for low-income litigants; support for self-represented litigants; support for litigants with limited language proficiency; and support for people with disabilities.
“We are very pleased that we are being recognized for providing Hawaii’s residents with some of the highest levels of service in the country,” said Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald. “The Justice Index Report not only helps educate the public about the challenges and unmet need for legal assistance that exists in our legal system nationwide, but also raises awareness of the many resources available. Increasing access to justice requires a collaborative effort. We are so grateful to all those who are committed and dedicated to making 100% access a reality for all.”
Hawaii was number one in the country for providing support for people with limited English proficiency (LEP). The State Judiciary’s Office on Equality and Access to the Courts (OEAC) has improved and increased the services available to Hawaii’s growing LEP population. The Judiciary annually provides interpreting services for LEP clients in as many as 45 different languages. OEAC also conducts statewide mandatory staff training on language access services for all Judiciary staff, so that the Judiciary can uphold the highest standard of service.
“Language access has always been a priority for us. These findings are the result of the commitment of our OEAC team and the 382 interpreters who are part of the Judiciary’s Court Interpreter Certification Program,” explained Rodney Maile, Administrative Director of the Hawaii State Judiciary. “We are continuing to find ways to improve language access, and are currently working on translating court forms from English into the 12 to 14 languages most frequently encountered in our state courts.”
Hawaii ranked in the top five for providing support to self-represented litigants. The Hawaii State Judiciary together with the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission and various community partners opened Self-Help Centers in every circuit in the state, where parties who cannot afford an attorney for their civil legal cases can get information from volunteer attorneys. The Judiciary has worked with the Bar organizations on each island to increase the hours of operation and number of volunteers available to assist individuals who cannot afford an attorney. Since the first Self-Help Center opened in 2011, volunteer attorneys and AmeriCorps Advocates have assisted more than 12,000 people, at almost no cost to the public.
The Hawaii State Judiciary also partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and the Hawaii State Bar Association to make self-help interactive court forms available online. Twenty-three of the most frequently used civil legal forms are now available online, accompanied by state-of-the-art software. This software takes users through a step-by-step question and answer process to help 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 these “A2J” (Access to Justice) self-help forms at locations statewide.
Hawaii rankedtop seven in providing support for people with disabilities. The Hawaii State Judiciary is recognized for providing website information on how to request an accommodation, using only certified sign language interpreters in court, and providing information on how to file a complaint for anyone who has difficulty accessing court facilities or services because of a disability.
Accommodations covered by the courts may include, but are not limited to, modifications to schedules to assist those with disabilities, the cost of providing sign language interpreters or computer assisted real-time transcription for persons who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment.
Chief Justice Recktenwald thanked Access to Justice Commission Chair, Justice Simeon R. Acoba, and his predecessor, Judge Daniel R. Foley, for their leadership on the Commission. He went on to say, “None of this would be possible without the leadership and hard work of the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission as well as our partnerships with the Hawaii State Bar Association, county bar associations, William S. Richardson School of Law, Hawaii Justice Foundation, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, AmeriCorps, and other legal service providers. I would especially like to acknowledge the work of hundreds of attorneys who have volunteered their time and talents to help those with the greatest need of legal support.”