The District of Columbia Courts adopted new rules of judicial conduct that include a new provision encouraging judges to take a more “affirmative role” to ensure that unrepresented litigants understand legal proceedings and have a fair opportunity to be heard. The rules, which incorporated some of the suggested revisions proposed by the D.C. Access to Justice Commission to clarify the kind of judicial role these new provisions envisioned, went into effect January 1, 2012.
Legal Aid applauds the D.C. Courts for having revised its judicial code to reflect the critical role that judges can and must play in improving access to justice for pro se litigants. Specifically, the new rules include a section spelling out “reasonable accommodations” judges can offer to unrepresented parties, which include asking neutral questions, avoiding legal jargon, explaining legal proceedings, changing the traditional order of collecting evidence, and making referrals to any resources that might help a pro se litigant.
Recognizing the critical role judges can play in ensuring access to justice is an important step for the D.C. courts to take.