Bar News - April 6, 2007
Judicial Branch Report Strategic Plan for Court System
Editor’s Note: The following information was provided by the Judicial Branch Communications Office and the 2005-06 Biennial Report, “Mapping the Future.”
This month, the Judicial Branch published its 2005-06 Biennial Report, “Mapping the Future.” The report, available in electronic form on the court’s Web site, outlines the new strategic plan for the court system and describes efforts over the past two years to make changes and improvements in the administration of justice.
“Our ongoing mission is to make justice in New Hampshire more accessible, affordable, and understandable for all those who use the courts,” Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. said in a letter published in the report.
On June 1-2, 2006 Chief Justice Broderick convened a group of 24 judges and support staff and charged them with developing a vision for the future of New Hampshire courts. The product of those discussions is The Judicial Branch Strategic Plan, which has five goals that will direct the court system’s future:
- Work to serve and educate the public
- Achieve progress through change
- Keep our courthouses safe
- Recognize our staff as our most valuable resource
- Deliver results fairly and efficiently
The Strategic Plan draws on findings and reports completed by five groups since January 2004: Challenge to Justice: The Task Force on Unrepresented Litigants; A Vision of Justice: Committee on Justice Needs and Priorities; Report from the Task Force on Public Access to Court Records; Report of the Committee on Court Security; and the Citizens Commission Report.
Produced by the Judicial Branch Communications Office, the biennial report includes summaries on statewide expansion of the family division; new alternative dispute resolution programs; and civic education projects. It contains detailed financial data for FY0506 and caseload statistics and a summary of the work of the Citizens Commission on the state courts.
In August 2005, the first public opinion survey of the NH Court system found that very few citizens knew much about how cases are handled or how the system works. “It is apparent that New Hampshire’s judicial branch is a mystery to most citizens,” according to the Citizens Commission Report. Convened in April 2005, the commission’s task was to gather information and feedback from the public on the court system, analyze the findings, and make recommendations for improvement.
Two non-lawyers, Will Abbott of Holderness and Katharine Eneguess of Jaffrey, co-chaired the commission, whose members included business executives; civic leaders; lawmakers; educators; a labor organizer; and a television executive. A minority of the members were lawyers and judges. Major funding for the commission was provided by the New Hampshire Bar Foundation and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The commission gathered information through a Web site; meetings with representatives from the National Center for State Courts; and conducting 11 “listening sessions” around the state. Eight research committees combined to produce the June 2006 report and recommendations.
Among those surveyed who had been to court, a majority felt the outcomes were fair and 75 percent reported they were treated with dignity and respect. The survey of 765 residents was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and funded by a NH Bar Foundation grant. The complete survey is included in the Citizens Commission report and available on the court’s Web site.
Highlighted areas from the Citizens Commission Report include:
- A core need of the entire court system is an improvement in “customer” service. Installation of new technology should be accelerated to improve effectiveness and efficiency; staff training should be improved; help-desks for the public should be established in courthouses.
- The court system must find additional ways to help citizens who come to court who are not represented by a lawyer, including building a “case manager” system.
- There should be a greater commitment made to development of alternative dispute resolution programs and to the use of mediation to avoid court trials.
- Adequate staff and training should be provided to ensure the success of the statewide expansion of the Family Division. The Commission strongly supported mediation to reduce the adversarial nature of family disputes.
- The state should continue development of statewide pretrial diversion and alternatives to prison programs.
- The Judicial Branch should bridge the “information gap” with the public through an aggressive education outreach campaign about the importance and relevance of the courts to community life.
To view the complete report online in PDF format, go to http://www.courts.state.nh.us/press/report06_web.pdf. All documents, including the Citizens Commission report, are available on the Judicial Branch Web site at http://www.courts.state.nh.us/.