Bob is arrested awaiting bail or trial (or imprisoned after conviction) but is adamant to represent himself vs get a lawyer. (I agree that practically/tactically this will often be the wrong call even if Bob is a monster lawyer himself with all legal resources burned in his mind, but nevertheless).

Does he have a right to access resources to do his legal research? To access the internet, or specific sites only e.g. legislation, this site etc.? To go to a library?

(Please pick up a jurisdiction you can answer about and tag accordingly)

1 Answer 1


1. United States

It is recognized that the right to meaningful access to courts generally requires access to adequate resources under the Fourth Amendment.

"More importantly, [the U.S. Supreme] Court's experience indicates that pro se petitioners are capable of using lawbooks to file cases raising claims that are serious and legitimate [...] therefore, [] the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, (1977)

Since '77, plenty of cases attempted to unreasonably curtail limited this right — just a few examples:

Generally, no right in unrelated matters

"The tools [the constitution] requires to be provided are those that the inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration." (Lewis v. Casey), 518 U.S. at 355 (1996)

Right to adequate means in constitutional rights' violations

"[L]aw libraries or other forms of legal assistance are needed to give prisoners a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts." (Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977)

2. Minnesota (as of yesterday)

No right acknowledged to internet, Electronic Law Library or even sites to legislation

When alleging that [one's] meaningful access to the courts has been denied, an inmate must allege that prison officials caused an “actual injury,” namely, that a “nonfrivolous (sic!) and arguably meritorious underlying legal claim” was frustrated or impeded. White v. Kautzky, 494 F.3d 677, 680 (8th Cir. 2007). Alleging a theoretical inadequacy is not sufficient. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351. Rather, an inmate must show a causal connection between a library inadequacy and an actual injury. See Entzi v. Redmann, 485 F.3d 998, 1005 (8th Cir. 2007). Absent an explanation demonstrating how the alleged library inadequacy [in the operation of the Electronic Law Library] either prevented the inmate from filing an arguably meritorious legal claim or caused an arguably meritorious claim to be dismissed as deficient, the inmate's “alleged injuries are merely speculative.” Hartsfield v. Nichols, 511 F.3d 826, 833 (8th Cir. 2008)" (Biron v. Carvajal, 20-cv-2110 (WMW/ECW) (D. Minn. Sep. 16, 2021)

3. United States

See 1.

  • 2
    +1. Wow, that final judgment seems incredibly harsh. In order to enforce the right to access legal materials, you need to establish an "arguably meritorious underlying legal claim". But you can't do that without access to legal materials!
    – JBentley
    Sep 18, 2021 at 4:51
  • In order to enforce the right to access legal materials, you need to establish an "arguably meritorious underlying legal claim" that if you wouldn’t get ELL you would lose a meritorious claim. You don’t simply first have to know what you are looking for but have to be able to speculate what you would lose and establish the loss in merit of your claims to be able to get them fix the ELL and maybe not have to wait 3 months until it is updated.
    – kisspuska
    Sep 18, 2021 at 8:43
  • The best part of this? Who is going to be the trier of fact? Who will decide whether the had a “casual connection” and that it is not merely “theoretical”? In what form will the allegedly harmed be allowed to present his claims? Can they prepare? Or will they have to do a stand up show and rap it right there? How can they prepare? Can they get a library to first verify and properly plead their claim to the prison guard who will clearly know it off the top of his JD/Bar member head whether meritorious, and then will approve the visit for the library to prepare. the words “farce and sham” fits..
    – kisspuska
    Sep 19, 2021 at 0:37

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