Date: January 23, 2004                            Contact: Laura Kiernan
                                                                               Court Information Officer
                                                                               271-2646 x359

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

"CHALLENGE TO JUSTICE"

Supreme Court Task Force, Citing 
Dramatic Growth in Pro Se Litigation, Suggests Change 

    CONCORD—A New Hampshire Supreme Court task force, recognizing the dramatic increase in the number of citizens who want to represent themselves in court, has recommended innovative changes in the court system to guarantee  "pro se" litigants fair and equal access to justice.

     The report, "Challenge to Justice," makes several key proposals including a new "Computer in Every Courthouse" project that would give the public low-cost, efficient access to information about the court system. The "Task Force on Self-Representation," chaired by Associate Supreme Court Justice James E. Duggan, proposed working with the state Office of Information Technology to carry out the computer access plan.

     "The Task Force has concluded that widespread self-representation is here to stay and that innovative changes are needed to ensure that pro se litigants are treated fairly and equally in New Hampshire courts," Duggan said in a letter to Gov. Craig Benson, legislative leaders and the legal community.

     Other recommendations in the task force report include:

  • Case managers in every major court to help evaluate pro se cases and work with the parties involved;
  • Rule changes to allow lawyers to provide limited legal services, such as preparation of legal documents, for pro se litigants who otherwise want to represent themselves
  • Simplification of court rules, forms and procedures, where possible, to accommodate pro se litigants.

     The report notes that one party is pro se in 85 percent of all civil cases in district court and 48 percent of all civil cases in superior court. In probate court, both sides are unrepresented by lawyers in 38 per cent of the cases.

     The task force said it is preferable for litigants to have the assistance of a lawyer and the members strongly recommended increased resources for low-cost legal assistance.

     "At the same time, we recognize that pro se litigants are a permanent and growing part of our justice system and we have an obligation to determine what level of assistance we can provide to them," the report said.

     The complete text of "Challenge to Justice" is available at http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/prosereport.pdf.

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