Governor Quinn today signed the Access to Justice Act, a new law to support veterans and active duty servicemembers across Illinois. The new law is designed to provide meaningful access to legal information and representation to the military, veterans and the disadvantaged. Today's action is part of Governor Quinn's agenda to honor and support the men and women who have served our nation.
"Our servicemembers have faced great obstacles in their line of duty, and there is no reason why they should face these difficulties here at home," Governor Quinn said. "The Access to Justice Act will ensure that our veterans get the assistance they need and deserve. I commend the Illinois Supreme Court and Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride for their work to put this bill on my desk."
"On behalf of the Illinois Supreme Court, I thank Governor Quinn and the General Assembly for enacting our proposal into law," Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride said. "This law will make the Illinois court system more accessible to veterans and active duty servicemembers and will help citizens in all walks of life.
"Additionally, it provides funding for self-help centers in law libraries, creates a task force to review the statutory fees imposed on litigation and will establish a pilot project to test how best to provide legal representation in certain civil cases to those who can't afford an attorney," Chief Justice Kilbride added.
Sponsored by State Representative Emily McAsey (D-Lockport) and State Senator John Mulroe (D-Chicago), House Bill 3111 creates a pilot program to provide legal representation for disadvantaged veterans and active duty servicemembers. It also establishes a task force to review fees on criminal defendants and civil litigants. The legislation passed with the strong support of the Illinois Supreme Court and takes effect immediately.
"This new law will help people across Illinois gain access to free legal resources that would not otherwise be available to them," Representative McAsey said. "By allowing county libraries to serve as self-help legal centers, establish court-sponsored pro-bono legal assistance and provide veterans with a hotline to receive legal assistance, more people will be able to consult accurate resources as they prepare to enter the courtroom."
"Access to a fair judicial system is a fundamental right in a civilized society," Senator Mulroe said. "The Access to Justice Act ensures that all litigants have meaningful access to legal information and legal representation, regardless of their income or circumstances. Additionally, it provides much needed legal support resources to statewide military personnel and veterans."
House Bill 3111 encourages the Supreme Court to develop a pilot program that will create a veterans' and military personnel statewide legal assistance hotline and a program for court-based legal assistance. These pilot programs will provide free legal assistance, and will be paid for by an Access to Justice Fund supported by a $10 fee on parties in civil cases which will be collected by the clerks of the circuit court.
The Access to Justice Act requires the Supreme Court to submit a report to the General Assembly by June 1, 2017 regarding the effectiveness of the program, including the number of people served, the impact the programs had, the benefits provided for both the clients and the courts, recommendations for maximizing benefits and an assessment of continuing unmet needs.
"House Bill 3111 is a great step forward in meeting the complex legal needs of Illinois' veterans and servicemembers," Erica Borggren, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, said. "Thanks to veteran-friendly legislation like this, Illinois is leading the nation when it comes to serving and supporting our veterans."
In addition to helping veterans receive access to legal representation, the law also creates a task force to review the fees on criminal defendants and civil litigants, making sure the court fees are both efficient and just. The task force will consist of 15 members and is required to submit a report with their findings to the General Assembly by June 1, 2014.