Discretionary appointment of cousel

Key_development Question_mark

Litigation, All Basic Human Needs

In 1985, the Court of Common Pleas for Berks County held that the Act of 11, Henry VII, chapter 12 (1494) (which provided a right to counsel for indigent plaintiffs in civil cases) "remains in effect as a part of the Common Law of Pennsylvania," and that the statute "requires us, sitting with the discretionary power in this limited area of a Chancellor of England, to determine whether or not he should have free counsel appointed for him."  Zerr v. Scott, 39 Pa. D. & C.3d 459, 461 (Ct. Com. Pl. 1985) (citing Report of the Judges, 3 Binney 617 (1808)). While acknowledging that "there may be some question as to whether the above-mentioned statute meets our present day concepts of constitutionality (it concerns itself with poor plaintiff's [sic] but ignores poor defendants, for example)," the court identified the progression of legislative and judicial determinations that keep this English chapter in force in Pennsylvania and concluded that it was, in fact, still effective. The court accepted that it was "fundamental that no lay person can adequately represent himself pro se in civil litigation. For a lay person to have meaningful access to our courts, he must have a skilled lawyer to represent him."  The court nonetheless made the discretionary determination that appointment of counsel was not required under the circumstances of the case, because it concluded that the claim the indigent plaintiff sought to bring was time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. See also Madden v. City of York, 59 Pa. D. & C.2d 367, 370 (Ct. Com. Pl. 1972) ("[T]he statute of 11, Henry VII, quoted above is to be incorporated in the statute laws of Pennsylvania."); Sturgeon v. Ely, 6 Pa. 406 (Pa. 1847) (relying upon 11 Hen. 7, c. 20).

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: yes