Read Full Article (PDF)


“Fundamental Fairness”: Finding a Civil Right to Counsel in International Human Rights Law


Every other Western democracy now recognizes a right to counsel in at least some kinds of civil cases, typically those involving basic human rights. The World Justice Project’s 2021 Rule of Law Index ranked the United States 126th of 139 countries for “People Can Access and Afford Civil Justice.” Within its regional and income categories, the United States was dead last. The United Nations and other international treaty bodies have urged the United States to improve access to justice by providing civil legal aid. How did we fall behind, and what can we learn from the rest of the world?

This Comment considers how international human rights law might support a civil right to counsel in the United States. Part II discusses right-to-counsel principles in U.S. law and the current state of civil legal aid. Part III examines how international and foreign law, particularly in Europe, has conceptualized and implemented a civil right to counsel. Finally, Part IV explores and evaluates several strategies for drawing upon international human rights law to secure such a right in the United States.


Meredith Elliott Hollman *

*J.D. Candidate, University of Richmond School of Law.