Oklahoma Bar Journal
From the Executive Director | Access to Justice: A Cornerstone of a Just Society
By Janet Johnson
When I think about this topic, I am taken back to my senior year of undergrad at OU. I was in my capstone course with Dr. J. Rufus Fears, and we often discussed what cornerstones in society made America different. I’ll spare you a regurgitation on my capstone paper, but I will say I pointed out five key points then and have managed to come up with five key points here. Coincidence? I think not.
Access to justice is a cornerstone of any fair and equitable society. It embodies the principle that every individual, regardless of their social or economic status, should have the means to seek recourse through the legal system when their rights are violated or when they face legal challenges. As I am sure you have read from our many other authors, gaining said access can be difficult for many.
ONE: UPHOLDING INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL
At the heart of access to justice lies the protection of individual rights. In a society where access to justice is readily available, individuals can seek legal remedies when they are wronged. This ensures that even the most vulnerable members of society have a chance to assert their rights and seek redress when they suffer harm, discrimination or injustice.
TWO: PROMOTING EQUALITY
Access to justice is a powerful tool for promoting equality. Without it, disparities in wealth and power can lead to a situation where only the privileged can access legal assistance. This inequality perpetuates existing social divides and hampers progress toward a fairer society. By providing equal access to the legal system, we level the playing field and ensure that justice is blind to one's socioeconomic status.
THREE: ENCOURAGING ACCOUNTABILITY
A just society holds individuals and institutions accountable for their actions. Access to justice plays a pivotal role in this process by allowing individuals to bring their grievances to court. When people know that they can seek legal remedies, it acts as a deterrent against wrongful conduct – whether it's a case of corporate misconduct or individual wrongdoing. This accountability strengthens the fabric of society and fosters a culture of responsibility.
FOUR: FOSTERING TRUST IN INSTITUTIONS
Trust in institutions is essential for the stability of any society. When individuals believe that the legal system is accessible and fair, they are more likely to have confidence in the institutions that uphold the rule of law. Conversely, a lack of access to justice can erode trust in these institutions, leading to cynicism and disillusionment among the populace.
FIVE: RESOLVING DISPUTES PEACEFULLY
Access to justice provides a peaceful means of resolving disputes. When individuals have the opportunity to address their grievances through the legal system, it reduces the likelihood of taking matters into their own hands. A society that encourages peaceful dispute resolution through legal channels is one that prioritizes stability and harmony.
Want to take an even deeper dive into the topic of peaceful dispute resolution? I hope you will join us for the Plenary Session during this year’s Annual Meeting. Author and speaker Megan Hunter, co-founder of the High Conflict Institute, will present in-depth on mediation and methods for resolving disputes. The session, co-sponsored by the OBA Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, is included with Annual Meeting registration, plus you’ll earn MCLE credit.
Access to justice is not a political issue; it is a fundamental human right and a vital component of a just society. It upholds individual rights, promotes equality, encourages accountability, fosters trust in institutions and facilitates peaceful dispute resolution. In a world where justice is accessible to all, we can build fairer, more stable and more prosperous communities. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that access to justice remains a cornerstone of our society.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 95 Vol 8 (October 2023)
Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.