Courts must be adequately staffed and located where people live to make sure people can get access to a judge when needed, especially when fundamental and constitutional rights are at stake
Courthouses should offer mediation, dispute resolution, and informal or non-legal services to make it easy for people to access cheaper and simpler options at any stage of the process
Courts should offer services, including early resolution and information services, for people who are navigating the legal system alone
Timelines, simplified procedures, shared experts, and limited number of witness should be agreed to, or insisted on by judges, to make better use of court time and encourage early settlement
Courts and procedures need to be modernized to reflect people’s needs, including better use of technology where it can make the process faster or easier without ignoring the needs of vulnerable people
Ensure system improvements do not interfere with a judge’s ability to make independent, ethical decisions to protect people’s rights
While many access to justice efforts focus on preventative approaches or alternatives to court processes, courthouses remain critical in the continuum of legal services. Courts are where may people turn first for legal information or resolution, speaking with court staff, judges and lawyers. Direct and ancillary services that help people during periods of crisis are often based at or near courthouses. Continuing to improve court-based legal services is critical to improving access to justice.
Programs in the courthouse, including legal information centres, pro bono services, and duty counsel programs help people understand legal processes and provide immediate assistance. Court staff provide frontline services to litigants and judges manage cases in their courtrooms.
In 2020, the work to improve the court process focused heavily on increasing the use of virtual tools and providing self-empowerment resources to litigants, to ensure that as many people as possible could access the courts. Early resolution and case management programs increased, helping support litigants to decrease cost, participate in resolution and reduce conflict.
© 2019 Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters