Last week I watched a great webcast, “International Framework for Court Excellence (Third Edition): Responding to challenges in a pandemic,” from the International Consortium for Court Excellence (ICCE; http://www.courtexcellence.com/).  

The program used the recently updated (May, 2020) International Framework for Court Excellence (IFCE; http://www.courtexcellence.com/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/53124/The-International-Framework-3E-2020-V2.pdf) as context to highlight how courts in Singapore, Marshall Islands, and United States are adapting to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.  If you also viewed the webcast, you know that it was very informative.  If you did not view the webcast, I hope the summary below will help further spread that information to a wider audience.

For those of us that may not be familiar with the IFCE, it is a comprehensive exposition of ten core values (integrity, fairness, impartiality, timeliness, etc.), concepts, and tools for court administrators and judges to assess and improve court performance.  The IFCE has seven areas of court excellence (e.g., court leadership, public trust and confidence, and court workforce), standards and tools for measuring court performance (like self-assessment checklists), recommendations on the use of technology, and other resources.  The IFCE is an absolutely essential resource for courts worldwide.  The 3rd edition of the IFCE has these main enhancements:

  • New topics, including
    • Ethics/Codes of Conduct
    • Risk Management
    • Workforce engagement, well-being, performance, and recognition
    • Records/data security
    • ADR
    • Therapeutic/problem-solving courts
    • Language interpretation
    • Media access
  • Expansion of Area of Court Excellence on Court Workforce
  • Introduction of new segment on court technology recommendations
  • Simplification of the self-assessment process
  • Modifications to scoring methodology

Readers in the U.S. may be more familiar with the similar “High Performance Court Framework” (HPCF) developed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) (https://www.ncsc.org/information-and-resources/resource-centers/resource-centers-items/high-performance-courts).  A companion resource to the HPCF is the “CourTools” performance measurement resource, which has both trial and appellate court versions:  http://www.courtools.org/.  Here in the U.S., the HPCF is also an essential court resource.  On the ICCE webcast, Dan Hall (Vice President, NCSC) did a nice job of comparing the IFCE and the HPCF with this presentation slide:

Mr. Hall shared how the U.S. state courts are responding to the pandemic (https://www.ncsc.org/newsroom/public-health-emergency).  A key element of this response is the “Rapid Response Team” that was created by the Conference of (State) Chief Justices and the NCSC.  This team has working groups to study and develop recommendations.  For instance, the Technology Working Group has focused on ways that online dispute resolution, videoconferencing, electronic filing, and other tools allow courts to conduct business during and after the pandemic.  I especially like the “Six Guiding Principles” for conducting post-pandemic court technology:

  1. Ensure principles of due process, procedural fairness, transparency, and equal access are satisfied when adopting new technologies
  2. Focus on the user experience
  3. Prioritize court-user driven technology
  4. Embrace flexibility and willingness to adapt
  5. Adopt remote-first (or at least remote-friendly) planning where practicable, to move court processes forward
  6. Take an open, data-driven, and transparent approach to implementing and maintaining court processes and supporting technology

Next, Chief Justice Carl Ingram of the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Marshall Islands talked about managing the effect of the pandemic in small jurisdictions.  The Marshall Islands is physically remote in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and has a population of about 60,000 people spread among 29 coral atolls (97% of its territory is made of water!).  In March 2020 the government imposed a travel ban on all incoming persons – a huge problem when your court is composed of U.S.-based judges, for example.  On the other hand, there have been no cases of COVID-19 to date (!).

Initially, the Supreme Court had no plan in place to respond to the pandemic. After assessing its options, however, the court has taken these steps:

  • Identify urgent matters that must be heard immediately to protect constitutional rights.
  • Suspend court services unless they can be performed while maintaining social distancing.
  • Control access to the courthouses.
  • Employ measures to protect judges and staff.
  • Pivot to video conference proceedings.

Next, Deputy Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie of the State Courts of Singapore presented, among other things, how her courts have worked to build a resilient, STAR workforce in the face of the pandemic:

  • Strengthen Solidarity
    • Delay leave plans to clear backlog
    • Participate in colleagues’ festivities
    • Extend helping hand to the community
  • Nurture Technophiles
    • Increase training
  • Boost Adaptability
    • Embrace change
    • Ease transition process
  • Build Resilience
    • Useful tips on managing pandemic disruptions
    • Provide access to professional mental health services

But, there have been challenges to the STAR efforts:

  • Resources
  • Cybersecurity
  • Staff issues (job redesign and redeployment)

Judge Marie concluded with the challenge to all of us to “Seize this opportunity to push for wider scale transformation.”  Great advice!

The final presenter was Beth Wiggins, Director of the Research Division of the Federal Judicial Center of the U.S. Federal Courts.  She outlined the simplified scoring approach in the revised IFCE with this presentation slide:

In addition, her presentation gave great detail about these improvements, including showing and explaining the model worksheets.

As you can undoubtedly tell, I thoroughly enjoyed the ICCE webcast and learned a lot about the updated version of the International Framework for Court Excellence.  I encourage everyone to become familiar with the updated IFCE.  You can stay informed about the ICCE by signing up for notices via its website (URL is at the beginning of this post).

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