Seals of the Court of Appeals and Superior Court
District of Columbia Courts

Goal I: Access to Justice for All

The Courts have a responsibility to eliminate barriers to meaningful participation in the judicial process and to accessing court services. Such barriers may include a lack of legal representation, limited literacy or limited English language skills, limited financial resources, and physical or mental disability. In collaboration with justice and community partners, the Courts will work to ensure full access to the justice system and court services.

Strategies & Key Results

   Strategies    Key Results

Increase the availability of free, pro bono, and low-cost civil legal assistance.

By 2022, the percentage of indigent persons with legal representation and the availability of limited-scope representation will increase.

Expand online and onsite assistance to self-represented litigants.

By 2022, self-represented parties will be able to file cases electronically.

Provide information and court documents in plain language and foreign languages through multiple platforms.

By 2020, informational web-based videos for the public will explain key trial and appellate court processes.

Minimize wait times and delays for all court participants.

By 2020, electronic check-in for court participants will reduce wait times.

Develop mobile applications to expand online access to court information and services.

By 2022, mobile applications will provide public access to court information and services online.

Provide targeted services for elderly court users, individuals with mental health challenges, and other groups.

By 2022, integrated court services will be provided to elderly court users and other groups with special needs.

Pilot a court navigators program to assist court participants with court processes and provide linkages to other services.

By 2019, trained court volunteers will assist participants to navigate court processes.

Develop a juvenile probation community supervision strategic plan in coordination with justice partners.

By 2020, the Juvenile Behavioral Diversion Program will support youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

The Courts provide legal representation for eligible indigent defendants in criminal cases at the trial and appellate levels and to parents in child abuse and neglect matters. There is an urgent need for legal assistance for parties in our Courts who cannot afford legal representation for many types of civil disputes or appeals. In 2017, the Courts sought and received legislative authority to raise the monetary limit for matters that can be brought to small claims court, from $5,000 to $10,000, which will bring some needed relief to these residents. In addition, the Courts will continue to partner with the DC Bar, law firms and other local organizations to identify unmet needs for legal assistance and to expand the availability of free, pro bono or low-cost civil legal assistance in the District.

Many of the District’s residents who cannot afford an attorney must represent themselves in court, often against an opposing party with legal representation. Additionally, an increasing number of individuals who may be able to afford counsel are choosing to represent themselves. In partnership with the DC Bar, legal services providers and organizations, the Courts have created self-help centers where such litigants can obtain information and assistance in representing themselves. The Courts will continue to expand the availability of assistance and information at the self-help centers and resource centers. The Courts will expand the electronic filing program to enable self-represented litigants to file cases and documents online, saving time and costs incurred to visit the courthouse. The Courts will also develop informational videos and self-guided materials on key court processes and post them on the Courts’ website and electronic monitors in court buildings. Continuing efforts will be made to ensure that all court forms and documents are in plain language.

The Courts understand that long wait times cause inconvenience and frustration, and often lost wages, for parties involved in a case or other legal matter or seeking services at the courthouse. The Courts will assess wait times in clerks’ offices and courtrooms, and pilot new business processes and case scheduling practices to reduce wait times.

The number of individuals and families residing in the District whose native language is not English has grown substantially over the past 15 years. In 2016, the Courts provided language interpreting services in over 9,000 matters to persons appearing in court. In addition to language barriers, District residents from Spanish-speaking countries, Africa, and Asia may have different expectations of the judicial process based on their native cultural experiences. The Courts will expand efforts to make processes clear and easy to navigate, provide information and forms for both Courts in multiple languages, and to recognize the cultural differences of court participants.

The Courts will expand the availability of court information and services online to enhance public access and reduce the need for in-person visits to the courthouses. Mobile applications will be developed so court users can access information about how to file cases and documents with the Courts, make payments, and obtain information and other services.

Elderly persons are coming in contact with our court system in greater numbers. They require guardianship services and, increasingly, relief from elder abuse and neglect. These matters are handled in different divisions of the Court of Appeals and Superior Court, and there is a need to develop integrated approaches to serve these and other vulnerable groups. Veterans visiting the Courts often have multiple needs that are best addressed in a coordinated manner. The Plan calls for the Courts to develop integrated approaches to ensure that such individuals are quickly identified and effectively served by the Courts through a seamless process.

To enhance public safety and address the needs of the District’s youth under probation supervision, the Superior Court’s Social Services Division, which serves as the District of Columbia’s juvenile probation department, will continue to provide innovative services, collaborating with local juvenile and criminal justice, child welfare, health, behavioral health, and education stakeholders. The community-based Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) Centers will continue to provide safe spaces for juvenile intervention programs. The Court will continue to engage agency partners on juvenile justice reform in the District and will seek to expand the Juvenile Behavioral Diversion Program (JBDP), which serves court-involved youth who have mental health challenges. The Courts will collaborate with stakeholders to address, when appropriate, victims of juveniles’ crimes.

Working with community partners, the Courts will continue efforts to ensure that persons with mental health issues who are involved or at risk of becoming involved in the justice system are identified, assessed, and linked with appropriate services. A court-based Urgent Care Clinic will continue to provide mental health and substance abuse assessments for individuals who exhibit symptoms of mental illness during court appearances.

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