DC Courts Advance Access to Justice Initiatives
The DC Courts continue to work on programs and initiatives focusing on the first goal of the DC Courts Strategic Plan: Access to justice for All. The Courts are committed to eliminating barriers so all can meaningfully utilize court services and protect their rights. Initiatives launched as part of the Strategic Plan are designed to make the Courts more accessible in various ways. Taking stock of recent initiatives, the items below provide a brief overview of what the Courts have accomplished and continue to work on.
Forms Help Online - Filling out court forms can seem daunting to those unfamiliar with court processes. In addition, the Courts seek to minimize the amount of time people have to spend in the courthouse to file a case, seek redress or respond to complaints. FHO allows those involved in court cases, and those seeking to initiate a case to handle part of the process from home. The Courts sought to allow people to fill out forms in advance on a home computer, tablet or smartphone. FHO presents users with a series of questions and uses their answers provided to select the necessary forms and fill them out for the user. Initially, this program was only offered in the Domestic Violence Division and Family Court, but recently it has been expanded to include Civil and Probate Divisions.
Electronic Sign-in - In order to further reduce wait times at court, the DC Superior Court expanded its electronic sign-in system. Such systems enhance efficiency for court users, reduce errors, improve communications, and provide data to inform management decisions. This year, the Court expanded electronic sign-in so that it is now available in the Civil, Domestic Violence, Family Court, and Probate Divisions, as well as Judge in-Chambers. With the expansion of E-lobby sign-in, the Courts are have streamlined the process for those coming to court allowing greater efficiency and shorter visit time. Forty-four thousand court visitors have participated in the Electronic Check-In system since 2018!
Court Navigator Program- the Court Navigator Program (CNP) helps meet the goal of access to justice by assisting those visiting the court campus by answering questions, providing directions, and explaining court processes. CNP staff-members provide directions to various buildings and offices, occasionally escorting individuals to the office they are in search of. CNP professionals also explain cases move through the court system, so that those involved in a case know what to expect. The final form of navigation, service navigation, involves providing information about court services and other services and resources available to those in need of assistance. CNP has quickly become the first stop for self represented litigants and helps nearly 100 people each day, with 89% of CNP visitors saying they would seek Court Navigators help if they ever have to come back to court.
Interpreter Registry - On October 1st, 2019, the Office of Court Interpreting Services (OCIS) successfully launched the DC Courts Interpreter Registry. OCIS staff now has a calendaring tool that allows interpreters to post their availability, receive automated emails with assignments, dispatch and return themselves from courtroom events, and submit invoices. The registry and calendaring tool have improved the quality and efficiency of interpretation services provided to court users who need interpretation assistance.
Community Partnerships – The DC Courts are also partnering with community organizations to provide pro-bono, free or low-cost legal assistance to court users. These organizations include AYUDA, Bread for City, DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, Legal Counsel for Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services, and Rising for Justice. Together these organizations provide help to well over 5000 on a yearly basis, enhancing access to justice in DC tremendously!
To see more about the Strategic Plan and progress reports, see: https://www.dccourts.gov/about/organizational-performance