Whitfield: Poor and Locked Out of Our Civil Justice System

Only by attacking this problem from all angles will we be able to make the promise of “Justice for All” a reality for low-income Virginians.

Op-Ed (Virginia)

John Whitfield
News and Advance
April 15, 2018

Tags: Courts, Funding: State & Local, Unrepresented litigants

Organizations mentioned/involved: Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) (Virginia), National Center for State Courts (NCSC)


The recently released report from the National Center for State Courts has determined — for the first time ever — the actual number of unrepresented litigants in Virginia’s civil court system. The results are startling, particularly in our lower courts, where most people go to court.

The traditional scenario, where both parties are represented by attorneys, occurred in just 1 percent of the civil cases disposed of by Virginia’s general district courts in 2016 and in just 6 percent of cases in juvenile and domestic relations district courts. In contrast, only the plaintiffs had attorneys in 54 percent of the general district court cases — creating a serious imbalance of power and a tilted playing field.