|August 19, 2005||
603-271-2646 ext 359
"Self- Help Center" on Judicial Branch Website
Provides Needed Information for Pro Se Litigants
Court also Posts Enhanced Juror Information Pages
CONCORD---A new “Self-Help Center” has been added to the Judicial Branch website (www.courts.state.nh.us) to assist litigants who come to court without a lawyer.
The online “self-help center” provides pro se litigants with comprehensive, user-friendly information about court procedures and available legal services. Links are also available to agencies and organizations that assist people during the court process, including mediation. Forms and step-by-step guidelines for litigants to follow in certain types of cases, such as divorce, are also available on the website. The site does not provide legal advice.
The section on jury service has been significantly expanded to include information about procedures at individual courts, directions to court locations, information about parking and "Frequently Asked Questions" about jury service. A key new addition is a juror questionnaire that allows prospective jurors to complete the form on a computer, print it out and mail it to the court rather than having to complete the form by hand.
A link also has been added from the homepage to information about the New Hampshire Citizens Commission on the State Courts, which was established by Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. to conduct an independent assessment of the state justice system. The Judicial Branch homepage also has been reorganized to make it easier for users to navigate throughout the website.
The creation of the “self-help” site was recommended in a report by the New Hampshire Supreme Court Task Force on Self-Representation, entitled Challenge to Justice. (The full text of the report is available at http://www.nh.gov/judiciary/supreme/prosereport.pdf.) Associate Supreme Court Justice James E. Duggan, who chaired the task force, said the new website is part of an ongoing effort by the court system to provide self-represented litigants with the information they need to have their cases resolved fairly and efficiently.
"Our state constitution says that our courts must provide all citizens with fair and timely resolution of disputes, and that guarantee applies whether or not a person has a lawyer,” Duggan said. "The Self-Help Center will provide needed guidance and direction for those self-represented litigants and at the same time help the court system operate as efficiently as possible.”
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of self-represented litigants in courts around the country. The Task Force reported that in New Hampshire, one party is pro se in 85 percent of all civil cases in District Court and in 70 percent of all Superior Court domestic relations cases. Estimates are that court staff spend hundreds of hours answering questions for pro se litigants about rules and formalities of the court, resulting in an inevitable slowdown in court operations.
Also at the recommendation of the task force, posters have been prepared for distribution to courthouses statewide, stating the basic information that court staff can appropriately provide to self-represented litigants. In addition, 3 x 5 cards with links to self-help websites will be available at each courthouse for distribution to self-represented litigants. The posters and cards are intended to make the courthouse more “user friendly” for pro se litigants and reduce the amount of time court staff spend answering questions for self-represented litigants.
The “Self Help Center” was designed by Rich Knox and Toni Szarek of the National Web Group in Manchester. Funding for project completion was provided through a grant from the non-profit New Hampshire Bar Foundation, which helps support efforts to inform the public about the justice system. Constance Rosemont of Concord, N.H. also contributed to the design and construction of the Self-Help site. Project technical assistance was provided by Laurie Mikels from the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The project was coordinated by Judicial Branch Communications Director, Laura Kiernan with assistance from Joan Bishop from the Superior Court administrative staff. Funding for redesign of the jury pages was provided through a grant from the American Bar Association as part of initiative to improve and promote jury service throughout the country.