Recently Chief Justice Wagner announced that the Supreme Court will modernize its headnotes by adding a summary written for regular folks. This summary will be posted on the Court’s website and its Facebook page. This change is a response to the way people are getting information. Today people learn about information from social media and websites in addition to traditional news broadcasts.
Justice Wagner’s initiative should be followed by our lower courts. Many self-represented litigants read cases arising from trials or motions. These cases can be hard to understand, even for lawyers. Our courts should be supplementing these dense decisions with a summary aimed at non-lawyers.
Additionally our courts should be considering alternative mediums for providing these summaries. We should be questioning the delivery of reasons. Why do we restrict ourselves to written reasons when we have new forms of media available to us? Is there a good reason to only produce written reasons or oral decisions from the bench? Should some significant cases from each level of court be accessible through different mediums?
A quick two-minute video explaining a written decision by a judge or a court spokesperson may be of use. Assuming that everyone can comprehend written reasons or a written summary is exclusionary. The courts in theory are to be open to everyone. They are not to be like the “Ritz Hotel”. Delivering decisions in one medium, when we now have other mediums available to us, may be unjustifiable in 2018. We have individuals with a myriad of abilities using our court system. This includes self-represented litigants with learning disabilities. Some of these individuals cannot afford a lawyer or a paralegal. However, they are still expected and entitled to understand the law and to be understood by our courts. Having a judge explain his/her thought process behind a leading case in a quick video may be helpful to some people.
The second initiative our courts can consider is Kiosks. For example, the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts will be providing grants to 10 Tennessee counties to launch court kiosks in 2018.
“Many people with questions turn to the court clerks and court staff for answers at the courthouse,” said Marcy Eason, chair of the Access to Justice Commission. “The innovative kiosk project will assist court staff to help people by providing timely information on local legal resources in a user-friendly way.”
Court clerks will be able to direct self-represented litigants to an on-site computer (Kiosk) where the user can access legal information and connect with local legal resources, including local legal aid offices, local pro-bono projects and clinics, court approved forms, and other resources. The kiosks will be customized for each court. In my opinion, the Kiosks could only be effective with trained employees assisting litigants. The Kiosks would have to be supplementary to guidance from individuals.
(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)