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Court launches Access to Justice Commission

Virginia has joined a majority of other states in creating a state Access to Justice Commission to help open civil courts to the poor, foreign-speaking and disabled.

Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser Friday ordered establishment of the 17-to-20-member panel with a mission to promote equal access to justice, particularly in civil matters.

The Public Welfare Foundation in Washington gave $270,000 last year to help launch such commissions around the country and to support their work. Virginia becomes the 29th state to start an access-to-justice commission using a portion of the grant money.

Kinser spoke of the need to remove barriers to justice in her State of the Judiciary address this year.

“Access to justice is realized through such things as pro bono legal services, foreign language interpreters, appropriate accommodations for anyone with a disability and rules and procedures, including forms, that make navigating the judicial system easier for pro se litigants,” she said.

Commission members are to be appointed by the chief justice in consultation with the other members of the court, Kinser’s order said.

The panel of judges, lawyers and others will include representatives of the Virginia State Bar Access to Legal Services Committee, the Virginia Bar Association Pro Bono Committee, and the Legal Services Corp. of Virginia, which funds legal aid offices.

A planning committee chaired by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn this year recommended creation of the access commission. The planning effort was funded by a $12,000 grant from the American Bar Association. Additional funds may be available from the grant program for the initial commission meeting, according to a Supreme Court spokesperson.

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