In the Interests of Justice: Human Rights and the Right to Counsel in Civil Cases
32 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2007 Last revised: 27 Jun 2012
Date Written: March 1, 2007
This report examines the international human rights treaties binding on the United States as well as other non-binding international human rights documents to ascertain the status of the right to counsel in civil cases, the so-called "Civil Gideon" right. The United Nations treaty monitoring bodies responsible for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination have both indicated that legal assistance may be required to ensure fairness in civil cases. The Charter of the Organization of American States, to which the United States is a party, goes farther and contains an explicit right to "adequate provision for all persons to have due legal aid in order to secure their rights." These sources support the conclusion that the Civil Gideon right is an emerging right in international jurisprudence. International bodies have been particularly apt to recognize this right when inequalities and threats to individuals' fundamental interests are exacerbated by the lack of legal assistance. Since the United States is a participant in several of these international treaty regimes, this international jurisprudence concerning Civil Gideon is highly relevant to evaluating whether the interest of justice are adequately served by the United States' current patchwork approach to the provision of civil counsel.
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