Should justice have a price tag?
In the ideal world there is justice for all – the rich and the poor.
This legal principle can be traced back to The Magna Carta (1215): “… we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”
Today’s reality is very different: “Our justice system has become unaffordable to most” (Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Britain’s Lord Chief Justice 2016).
Israel and Elsewhere:
The lack of access to justice in Israel is a daily reality for many. In my opinion, this is a national tragedy.
Israel, like many western countries, is behind the times with accessible legal assistance to the average citizen. Whether you find yourself in need of a lawyer in Israel, the U.S. or Europe, the cost is unreachable for most.
The wealthy do not have to think twice to bring a lawsuit – just pay the lawyer’s fees and court costs and you will have your timely day in court. But for the average person without thousands of Shekels in the bank, access to the court system/justice is limited or none. For example, the person who falls prey to a business scam, or the unemployed mother stuck in a broken or abusive marriage – is left stranded without recourse while on a waiting list for publicly funded and overly burdened legal aid. In the meantime, they are left in the lurch without income, housing, access to the children or help with any of the above.
Until this problem is universally acknowledged, there is little hope for improvement in sight.
Access to Justice 2019 is a global problem.
The World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2019 measured the rule of law based on experiences and perceptions of the public and experts in 126 countries and jurisdictions worldwide.
In WJP’s report, “Measuring the Justice Gap,” 1.4 billion people worldwide have unmet civil and administrative justice needs. Of the estimated 36% of people in the world who have experienced a non-trivial legal problem in the last two years, more than half (51%) are not able to meet their civil justice needs. Vulnerable groups – including low-income populations, recipients of government benefits, and the unemployed – are affected disproportionately; they are more likely to have legal problems and to experience a hardship as a result of their legal problem.
People face a variety of obstacles to meeting their justice needs, beginning with their ability to recognize their problems as having a legal remedy. Indeed, fewer than 1 in 3 people (29%) understood their problem to be legal in nature as opposed to “bad luck” or a community matter. As mentioned above, less than a third of those surveyed obtained advice from a person or organization that could help them better understand or resolve their problem, and 1 in 6 (16%) reported that it was difficult or nearly impossible to find the money required to resolve their problem. About the same proportion (17%) reported that their justice problem persists but they have given up any action to try to resolve it further, with another 39% reporting that their problem is still ongoing.
So is justice equal for all?
NO, it is not equal. The law should apply to individuals equally, but this is not the reality.
Two defendants, charged with the same crime, in the same circumstances, will face different prospects in court when one can afford to pay for an experienced lawyer and investigator, and the other cannot. If you can afford to pay for a good experienced lawyer, you will enjoy advantages that could mean the difference in a criminal case between innocence and guilt and serving time in jail or not. In other cases, either as a plaintiff or a defendant, having the ability (money) to hire a good attorney, could be the difference between winning or losing your case or even being able to bring your claim or appeal to court.
The majority of people in need of free legal representation are ordinary people dealing with everyday issues but with no access to reliable free legal aid. These are good people facing bankruptcy, child custody (with no access to their children because they are not able to pay to take their partner to court), elderly, victims of domestic abuse trapped with their abuser because they have no means to bring their abuser to court, single mothers, as a few examples.
Sometimes we must just go on without help
Every day attorneys are turning away honest people with no means to pay a for a legal battle. These people naively believed in justice for all and that they too could access the legal system. Only to be extremely disappointed when they learn that without financial resources to invest in legal expenses, they are without a remedy for their problems. If you live in Israel, you or someone you know has probably experienced this difficulty in getting access to a court or enforcing a court’s decision in any field of the law.
When the opponent has more resources, they can travel and hide in other countries, hire professionals to hide their assets, file frivolous legal claims to intimidate, and make life so difficult until you just give up. How many times children are deprived of good education and even of a normal dwelling because the other spouse is not paying alimony as ordered by the judge? How many women are left without a GET (religious divorce) because the husband left Israel without a trace? How many people left Israel and will never be able to come back because of debts left behind after they were victims of a scam? Most of these problems could be solved with money to pay legal representation to clear up issues in court or in The Law Enforcement and Collection System Authority (“Otsaa La Foal”).
So how does one obtain justice? Too many times, “Money is the name of the game” and unless you can figure out way to come up with it, you may be out of luck or out of justice – at least until and IF it is your turn on the legal aid list.