Justice for All Commission (JFAC) issues annual report

The Michigan Supreme Court recently released the Justice for All Commission (JFAC) 2021 annual report, which spotlights efforts to expand access to civil justice across the state.

The JFAC’s goal is to ultimately help 100 percent of state residents access the resources needed to solve civil legal problems (landlord-tenant issues, parenting time or custody disputes, access to benefits, e.g.) through a comprehensive approach that includes innovative technology, common sense procedural improvements  and creative steps to provide more ways for people to solve legal problems with or without a lawyer.

“Each year, more than 30 million Americans encounter a civil legal problem without the help of a lawyer,” said Justice Brian K. Zahra, who serves as commission chair. “This is why the Justice for All Commission is working so hard to achieve 100 percent to a civil justice system that is easy to navigate, understand and use. This report shows the significant progress we have made in 2021 toward this goal and highlights the milestones we expect to reach this year toward justice for all.”

Angela Tripp, Michigan Legal Aid director who serves as commission vice chair, said the importance of “expanding access to our civil justice system cannot be emphasized enough.

“We believe that the success of this effort is central to strengthening the long-term health of Michigan’s economy and the fabric of our society,” she said.

According to the report, the JFAC spent its first year laying the groundwork necessary to successfully advance the goal of ensuring 100 percent access to justice, including establishing committees and workgroups to tackle the tactics identified through strategic planning.

Building on the foundation laid in 2021, this year the JFAC expects to:

* Complete work on court rule, practice and policy recommendations for how to improve the ways in which debt collection and eviction cases are handled.

• Substantially enhance the structure, support and data collection tools for self-help centers across the state to improve the services offered there.

• Receive the results of an economic impact and return on investment study to demonstrate the effectiveness of civil legal assistance.

• Develop recommendations on how to expand access to legal services through non-traditional innovative models.

• Move forward with a long-term project to improve the readability and accessibility of Michigan’s court forms.

In addition, regarding technology, the report highlights how the JFAC supported adoption of the requirement for every court to submit case data to the Judicial Data Warehouse to facilitate transparency, standard treatment across courts, and the availability of complete statewide data to improve equity and equal justice.

The JFAC technology and data sharing committee then contributed suggestions in response to a request for input on what data the Judicial Data Warehouse should collect. Also in 2021, JFAC committees and work groups developed plans for training to help courts build their capacity to serve self-represented litigants and are working to conduct usability testing of statewide triage and referral systems to identify areas for improvement.

The JFAC received support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Center for State Courts, which led to collaborations with civil justice experts nationwide.

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