September 22, 2004                                                                     Contact: Laura Kiernan
                                                                                                   Court Public Information Office
                                                                                                   603-271-2646  ext 359

 

NEWS ADVISORY

“A VISION OF JUSTICE: THE FUTURE OF THE NEW HAMPSHIRE COURTS"

REPORT RECOMMENDS WIDE-RANGING ENHANCEMENT
 OF COURT SYSTEM SERVICES

         CONCORD---In the first comprehensive long-range report on the New Hampshire court system since 1990, a committee of key justice system leaders has endorsed a wide range of recommendations to improve delivery of justice services to the public over the next five years, including more efficient case processing and scheduling, increased availability of low cost legal services; electronic filing and “e-noticing” of court hearings; and improved training of judges and court staff.

            Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. said the 37-page report is “a huge first step in a much larger mission to effect real change and make sure that all of our citizens have meaningful access to justice.” The report,  A Vision of Justice: The Future of the New Hampshire Courts” is available on the Judicial Branch website at www.courts.state.nh.us.

            The Supreme Court  “Committee on Justice System Needs and Priorities,” which prepared the report, was chaired by Manchester attorney Bruce W. Felmly, a former president of the New Hampshire Bar Association. The committee, whose members included judges, lawyers, court administrators and staff, was assembled by the Supreme Court 10 months ago to examine the court system and provide guidance for administrative judges and court managers to enhance court operations services in the future.

             “The court system is now confronting challenges that are different in magnitude and kind than we have ever seen before and in order to do this there needs to be procedural and operational changes, and, changes in the way the court system interacts with the public,”Felmly said today. Felmly also served as a member of the Supreme Court's 1990 long-range planning task force.

            "The world has changed on us since then," he said. 

                       Felmly today urged New Hampshire’s business, political and community leaders to recognize “that our state has an excellent system that can be enhanced to meet the challenge of delivering top quality, accessible justice that meets the demands of our changing society, whether that means new technology, advanced training for judges and staff, improved services for self-represented litigants or more efficient case management in complex legal cases.”

            Broderick said that in early 2005, he expects to announce the formation of a panel of public leaders and citizens who will be charged with taking a comprehensive look at the “Vision of Justice” recommendations, as well the recommendations of a January 2004 report on self-represented litigants in the New Hampshire courts. The new panel will also consider the final recommendations of an ongoing task force study on family law issues.

            “Now that this detailed analysis has been completed by those who work so closely within the justice system on a daily basis, I will ask a broad constituency of the public to take this work and suggest how we can further improve access to justice for all citizens, as they see it.  This is their court system,” Broderick said.

            In the report released today, the committee on needs and priorities recognized the importance that the Judicial Branch meet the “service expectations” of all users of the court system. “Only by consistently providing prompt, responsive and excellent service will the public provide the support, funding and confidence necessary for our courts to achieve the vision and promise our report describes,” the committee said.

            The committee’s report focused on enhancing and measuring court performance; public service and responsiveness; court facilities, services and personnel; and technology. Key recommendations included:

·         Enhanced legal representation for indigents citizens or those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer

·         Adoption of specific case processing time standards

·         Expanded training, education and evaluation of judges and court staff

·         Improved interpretation services for non-English speaking users

·         Improved clarity and uniformity in court forms

·         Expanded public communication about the justice system

·         Improvement of information exchange for court system users through ongoing deployment of an updated electronic case management system for all courts.

             “The extensive work of this committee has created a framework for action and I am grateful to all of the men and women who have devoted time and energy to this effort on behalf of our court system, but more importantly, on behalf of our citizens,.” Broderick said.

            In a letter to the Supreme Court, Felmly said the committee was “mindful of the constraints” on state resources as it evaluated the needs and priorities  of the court system over the next five years. He added that the committee recommendations were presented “in the belief that our State will provide resources for the critical justice system needs of citizens.”

            The committee report included a recommendation that the court system expand its alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program which provides opportunities for litigants to resolve disputes using mediation, arbitration and other non-judicial services.  In connection with that recommendation, the Supreme Court announced today that Sullivan County Superior Court clerk Peter Y. Wolfe, who has been a leader is establishing ADR programs in the court system, has been asked to begin design of a mediation program for small claims cases in the District Court system.

 

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