Since July 2011, indigent parents accused of abuse or neglect have had to manage the court system without an attorney. Recent legislative changes removed the statutory requirement contained in RSA 169-C:10, II(a) that counsel be appointed for requiring appointed counsel for indigent parents. However, the question still remains whether the parents have a constitutional right to counsel under the New Hampshire constitution.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court is now faced with that question, and has called for amicus briefs or memorandum on the following question:
Does the Due Process Clause of the New Hampshire Constitution (Part 1, Articles 2 and 15) or the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution require the appointment of counsel for an indigent parent from whom the State seeks to take custody of a minor child based on allegations of neglect or abuse?
I believe the civil right to counsel for parents accused of abuse or neglect is a fundamental right, as basic as the right to an attorney in criminal matters. My New Hampshire Bar News opinion and blog post provide a more detailed analysis. I am interested to hear your opinion so feel free to leave a comment.