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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 78036 Find in a Library
Title: Remarks of Charles R Halpern on April 9, 1976 at National Conference on 'The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction With the Administration of Justice'
Author(s): C R Halpern
Date Published: 1976
Page Count: 11
Format: Document
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: In a 1976 speech, the director of the Council for Public Interest Law criticizes the trend toward making legal recourse less accessible to ordinary citizens and offers suggestions to make the courts more hospitable to individual initiatives.
Abstract: Government administrative mechanisms have expanded during recent decades to safeguard public interests, but reliance on regulations appears to be waning. Increasing numbers of citizen groups have taken the initiative in demanding compliance with the law from large institutions and reflect a widespread lack of public confidence in the performance of large public and private organizations. An illustration of citizens' efforts to combat institutional lawlessness is the suit brought against the Department of Agriculture in the 1960's which pressured it into banning the pesticide DDT. Unfortunately, citizen access to the legal system is often blocked by the high cost of legal representation, restrictive legal doctrines, and the inherent disadvantages faced by individuals when they litigate against large, wealthy adversaries. Among several recent Supreme court decisions which have limited citizen recourse to the courts are the interpretation of Rule 23 on class actions and the Alaska pipeline case. Programs such as the Legal Services Corporation have been established to address the problem of high litigation costs, but funding has been grossly inadequate and of uncertain duration. An important device to underwrite these costs is the award of attorneys' fees to private litigants whose lawsuits confer substantial public benefits. Courts and legislatures should support the class action which provides a judicial forum for aggrieved citizens whose individual claims against a single defendant are too small to justify the expense of litigation. Courts should also try to minimize disparities in litigating capacities between the rich and the poor. Approaches include liberal admission of amici curiae, the appointment of expert witnesses to equalize access to technical data, and experiments with flexible mechanisms to assure that decrees are effectively implemented. (Author abstract modified)
Index Term(s): Citizen grievances; Citizen prosecution initiation; Court management; Court reform; Public Attitudes/Opinion
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