Date: January 28,
Contact: Laura Kiernan
Court Information Officer
STATE JUSTICE INSTITUTE SUPPORTS PRO SE FOCUS GROUPS
CONCORDDiscussion groups with pro se litigants, held at four sites in New Hampshire through a grant from the State Justice Institute, provided valuable, first-hand information for a New Hampshire Supreme Court task force studying access to justice issues for citizens who go to court on their own.
"The feedback we received from these focus groups helped us fairly and accurately assess the needs of self-represented litigants," said Associate Supreme Court Justice James E. Duggan, chairman of the "Task Force on Self-Representation." The task force report, titled "Challenge to Justice," was released on January 23. It cited dramatic growth in the number of self-represented litigants and made several recommendations for change, all of which had been endorsed by the four focus groups.
The New Hampshire outreach sessions, held in Dover, Manchester, North Haverhill and Concord were organized by Attorney Connie Boyles Lane through a grant from the State Justice Institute which provides financial support to improve the quality of justice to courts nationwide. The State Justice Institute, which was established by federal law, also awards grants to facilitate better coordination between State and Federal courts and foster innovative, efficient solutions to common problems faced by all courts.
The focus group participants were volunteers recruited through newspaper advertisements and randomly selected from case filing lists. They met in small groups, often with members of the task force, and were asked about their experiences representing themselves in court, and how they thought the system could be improved. A total of 45 volunteer members of the public participated in the four focus groups.
According to the task force report, the participants expressed their frustration with the legal system and distrust of lawyers and judges. A common theme in all four groups was that the judicial system is not perceived to be fair to those who are not represented by a lawyer.
The focus groups attached the most importance to development of protocols for judges to follow when dealing with pro se litigants and simplification of court rules. They also strongly supported the use of case managers and access to information about the justice system through computers.
"We are grateful for the support we received from the State Justice Institute which helped us strengthen our report and its recommendations," Justice Duggan said.
More information about the State Justice Institute is available on the SJI website at http://www.statejustice.org.
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