Paula M. Carey, Lewis H. Spence
Lowell Sun (Massachusetts)
June 1, 2014
Link to oped
Tags: Courts, Delivery Systems, Family, Information Centers, Language Access, Pro Se/Self-Help, Veterans
Last June, as we began our joint leadership of the Trial Court, we introduced a vision for a 21st-century court system: “One mission: Justice with dignity and speed.” A strategic plan, developed with considerable input from court employees and court users, became our blueprint to revitalize the court system.
Access to justice. The Trial Court is taking a multi-pronged approach toward increasing access to justice for all court users across the court system. To resolve cases faster and reduce the need to go to court, we’re expanding our Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program. An effective and efficient alternative to litigation, ADR offers court users additional tools to resolve matters fairly and expeditiously, whether they’re represented by an attorney or not. To reflect and respect the growing diversity of our state, and address the needs of non-native English speakers, we’re creating forms and signs for our courthouses in other languages, depending on the needs of local populations.
Court Service Centers. Growing numbers of people represent themselves in court without an attorney and are often overwhelmed or uncertain of court processes. As an example of the tremendous change the justice system now faces, the state’s Probate and Family Court estimates that some 65-70 percent of people who appear before the court do so without a lawyer. We are piloting new Court Service Centers, managed by Trial Court staff with law degrees, to help court users navigate the judicial process. A Court Service Center recently opened in Greenfield and one is planned to open soon in Boston. Court users will be able to work with Court Service Center staff for help preparing forms and pleadings, and accessing interpreter services. We will expand Court Service Centers to other locations based on the results of the pilots.