Indigent Parents Should Have Right to Counsel in Abuse and Neglect Cases, ABA Urges N.H. High Court

CHICAGO, Dec. 13, 2011 – Indigent parent-defendants in abuse or neglect proceedings in which the state is seeking custody of their minor children should have the right to state-provided counsel, according to an _ amicus brief filed with the New Hampshire Supreme Court in In re Christian M. and Alexander M.

Responding to the New Hampshire Court’s request for briefs on the ramifications of a decision in these cases, the ABA states that its long history of examining this issue has led it to conclude that the risk of error when indigent parent-defendants are not represented in such matters is so great that fair and equal access to justice requires the appointment of counsel.

A substantial majority of states, either by statute or based on their state constitutions, have recognized an unqualified right to counsel for indigent parent-defendants in child custody proceedings, the brief also notes.

The ABA supports, as a matter of right, the appointment of legal counsel at public expense for low-income persons in adversarial proceedings that involve basic human needs, such as shelter, sustenance, safety, health and child custody. A copy of the policy is provided as an appendix to the brief, which is available online here.

With nearly 400,000 members, the _ is the world’s largest voluntary professional membership organization. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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