On December 28, 2016, the Access to Justice Commission released a report detailing its findings on the state of civil legal aid in Montana. The report, which is based on information gathered during seven public forums on access to justice held from October 2015 to October 2016, describes both the challenges and successes of increasing access to justice for Montanans facing civil legal problems.
Among the successes: statewide programs like MLSA that work to provide legal information, advice, limited-scope legal services, and full representation to Montanans in need. Other programs, such as the Court Help Program, which provides civil legal forms and information to Montanans who do not have an attorney, have also made a difference in giving Montanans the tools they need to address their civil legal problems on their own.
However, challenges in providing civil legal services in a large and rural state like Montana remain. Limited resources mean that civil legal aid organizations in Montana do not have the capacity to meet the needs of every low income Montanan facing civil legal problems. The lack of local civil legal services on many of Montana's Indian Reservations, for instance, makes it more difficult for Native Americans to access civil legal services because, as the report states, "there is simply no adequate substitue for an advocate physically present on the Reservation."
To make it easier for all Montanans to gain truly fair and equal access to our court system, the report suggests working to create a comprehensive network of services that are designed to address the civil legal as well non-legal problems that make it difficult for clients to live healthy, stable lives. At the root of this suggestion lies the need for more support. With more support, service organizations like MLSA, government agencies, and the court system would be able to work together to create a more effective and efficient civil legal court system. These changes would allow more people to address their civil legal problems when they first arise and would limit the number of people who end up in court with no legal assistance or representation.
To read the report, click here.