A bold experiment is underway in New Hampshire as the Granite State’s judiciary embarks on a journey of self-assessment, reflection, and change to meet the dispute resolution needs of the 21st century.
Recognizing that many of those who utilize the court’s services are not represented by counsel, and understanding the importance of a judicial system that promotes both fairness and efficiency, the New Hampshire judiciary has already implemented a number of changes and initiatives aimed at increasing accessibility and providing meaningful alternatives to all those who pass through the courthouse doors, including increased availability of mediation services.
A 103-member New Hampshire Citizens Commission on the State Courts has been appointed to undertake an assessment of New Hampshire’s judicial system and to provide recommendations for improvements. A series of “listening sessions” for eliciting feedback from members of the public have been scheduled for all ten of New Hampshire’s counties. One such session was held earlier this week in Portsmouth.
The Commission is expected to submit its report and recommendations in the spring of 2006.
In the meantime, the New Hampshire judicial system has made a number of changes to its web site to increase its user-friendliness for self-represented parties. This includes a Self-Help Center where pro se litigants can gain ready access to important information, including pointers on how to prepare for court (with warning of the risks of not having legal counsel); quick links to instructions on filings for certain types of cases; and information on alternatives, including mediation, as well as resources available outside the court.
All of this information is presented in a commendably well organized, readily understandable format which could easily serve as a blueprint for other state courts wishing to increase public understanding of and improve public access to the judicial system.