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Court budgeting – ways to improve performance and do more with less

Georgia Harley's picture
Also available in: Русский


The European Summer is over. We’ve traded our sunscreen for spreadsheets and it’s budget time. Across Europe, Ministries of Justice, Courts, and Judicial Councils are preparing their budget plans for the upcoming year. With fiscal constraint still the order of the day, staff in these offices are sharpening their scalpels, trying to figure out how to do more with less.
 
So in the spirit of sharing, below is a Top 10 list of how to improve court performance without spending more money.   
 
The Rules:
 
The below list is a rough catalogue of initiatives that judiciaries in our client countries have undertaken to improve their performance within their constrained resource envelope. These aren't prescriptions. They aren't foolproof. 
And they won't work everywhere.  
 
To Qualify for the List:
  • We must have seen them work in at least two countries;
  • These actions require no (or little) legislative change;
  • The actions must not impede upon judicial independence or service delivery to citizens and businesses.
The List:
 
This list emerged from a panel discussion at the 2016 IACA Europe Conference and was surprisingly well received by court presidents and managers from across the globe. So in response to demand, here goes:
  1. Fully utilize your capital budget. Develop a solid track record before asking the Ministry of Finance for more.
     
  2. Don't skimp on analysis. Use targeted analyses by asking experts for their advice on how to solve your pressing problems. Use the analysis to engage with your Ministry of Finance to identify reform opportunities.
     
  3. Pool resources to maximize economies of scale. Many courts have had success by sharing internal resources through preparatory departments and typing pools within the one courthouse, or by sharing administrative services (facilities management, interpretation, ICT, payroll and finance) among several courthouses.
     
  4. Fast-track the resolution of small claims for citizens and businesses. Don’t waste precious court resources on intensive processing of the simplest cases. Check out what EU member states are doing to expedite the resolution of small claims for the satisfaction of citizens and businesses.
     
  5. Educate court users, especially self-represented litigants. Offer lay formats of information on common legal problems and basic court practice. That way, self-represented litigants will save the court’s time by being better informed in their dealings with the registry and more prepared for hearings.  
     
  6. Reward innovation Offer rewards to the most improved courthouses. Emblazon dull managerial reports with a leaderboard so that court presidents and staff can see how their recent performance compares with other courts. Offer small grants to courthouses to innovate and better serve their local communities.  
     
  7. Analyze the fiscal impacts of reforms. Conduct sensitivity analyses of reform options, especially for amendments to legislative frameworks such as Procedural Codes or changes to monetary thresholds and jurisdictional limits. To prevent implementation gaps, anticipate and be explicit about the costs of rolling out reforms, including awareness campaigns, business process tweaks, and resourcing needs.
     
  8. Adjust court fees and lawyer fees to incentivize party behavior in the interests of justice. For example, caps on court fees encourage wealthy parties and big companies to vexatious litigation or delay tactics. And countries that move away from paying lawyers ‘per hearing’ can expect to see significant decreases in the average number of hearings required.
     
  9. Attrition is your friend. Attrition empowers you to gradually adjust the composition of your workforce without painful redundancies. Plan replacements and trade positions and classifications to meet modern needs (i.e. rather than replace general administrative clerks 1-for-1, trade those positions for fewer higher-skilled staff, such as ICT professionals).
     
  10. Adjust promotion criteria to incentivize the judiciary’s desired skills, experiences and values. Signal to the cadre the desirable behaviors, and junior ranks will follow. If the judiciary values continual learning, then preference could be formally given to those judges who've contributed as a trainer/mentor at the training institution. If the judiciary values consistency and cross-fertilization, preference applicants who have served in more than one court. If the judiciary wants to bolster the managerial skills of court presidents, require applicants to demonstrate their managerial skills, including participation in any courses or taskforces.
So there you go. It's all much easier said than done. But hope these ideas are helpful at this time of year.
 
If you've found ways to do more with less at your court, please share your ideas and suggestions!

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