American Bar Association forms task force to ensure independence in public defence

The task force will be assisted by an advisory board of scholars and practitioners

American Bar Association forms task force to ensure independence in public defence

The American Bar Association (ABA) Criminal Justice Section, the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID), and the National Association for Public Defense have announced the formation of the Task Force for Public Defense Independence.

The initiative aims to safeguard and promote the independence of public defence and improve public comprehension of the critical role this independence plays in the fairness and justice of the criminal legal system.

The task force is led by Keisha Hudson of the Defender Association of Philadelphia and Malia Brink from the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. The task force participants include defenders, legal scholars, and professionals with extensive experience in the criminal legal domain. An advisory board comprising distinguished scholars and practitioners is set to assist, offering insights into political or judicial challenges to the defence function.

Tina Luongo, chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section and chief attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society in New York City said, “The ABA Criminal Justice Section convenes this task force to support and advance public defense independence.”

The establishment of the task force responds to recognized needs within the legal community to ensure that public defenders operate with autonomy, prioritizing their client's best interests without external influence. This initiative reflects the ABA's commitment to upholding the principles of effective public defence, as outlined in the "10 Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System," first adopted in 2002 and revised in 2023, with independence as its cornerstone.

“Public defenders must be able to challenge the government without fear of reprisal or reproach,” said Lori James-Townes, executive director of the National Association for Public Defense. “This task force will outline the critical steps necessary to ensure this freedom.”

“Public defense independence is not only about governance and selecting leaders based on qualifications, not connections, it is about the autonomy to pursue the resources needed to appropriately serve clients,” added task force co-chair Malia Brink.

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