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At a Glance

"Civil right to counsel", sometimes called "Civil Gideon", refers to the idea that people who are unable to afford lawyers in legal matters involving basic human needs - such as shelter, sustenance, safety, health, and child custody - should have access to a lawyer at no charge. The "Gideon" reference is linked to the famous Supreme Court ruling that individuals charged with serious crimes have a right to counsel. While this right exists in criminal matters, it exists at present only in very limited circumstances in civil matters.