SALT LAKE CITY — The justice system is changing, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant told lawmakers Monday, but it should continue to be accessible to the citizens of Utah.
"While our fast-paced society and advances in technology may, at times, seem overwhelming, both lawmakers and judges must continue to carefully enact and faithfully adjudicate the law with fidelity," Durrant said.
He said one of the challenges faced by legislatures and courts is to create and apply laws in a way that will improve public trust.
"Let me say clearly — fidelity to the law should never be shaped by or subjugated to a political agenda. Sadly, this is not a universally respected principle. Some seem to forget, or willfully ignore, that the rule of law is a bedrock principle upon which our country and our state have been established," Durrant said.
Durrant stressed the importance of adhering to the rule of law, which he said is the foundation and source of greatness in this country.
Speaking to Utah legislators, Durrant said the rule of law is their shared enterprise. Legislators make the law, and judges interpret and make sure the law is applied fairly and consistently.
"For the rule of law to have meaning, the public must be able to trust that the right outcome is reached. In this process, each party must have a voice and be respectfully heard," Durrant said.
Public trust is just as important as it has ever been, he said, and is only possible with enough time and resources given to the judicial system. Durrant told the legislators this cannot be done without their support.
"Utah is fortunate to have superb judges, and it's important that we continue to attract new judges of the same caliber. For this reason I urge you to adopt the recommendation on judicial salaries of the Elected Official and Judicial Compensation Commission. I also urge you to support our budget request for an increase in salaries for our dedicated clerical staff," Durrant said.
Durrant also discussed the challenge of ensuring the citizens of Utah have access to the justice system. He cited studies which suggest about 80 percent of civil justice needs go unmet, a gap which he called unacceptable.
He discussed a new class of legal professionals, the licensed paralegal practitioner, or LPP, who would be able to give legal assistance in certain cases including landlord-tenant disputes, debt collection actions and family law matters.
"LPPs can provide this legal assistance without undergoing the expense of three years of law school, so they'll be able to offer the public a lower-cost option than is now available, thereby increasing access to competent legal representation. The first LPPs will begin work later this year," Durrant said.
He also said there will be an increased access to the courts online through online dispute resolution, providing a way parties in small claims matters can resolve legal disputes without entering a physical courthouse with help from a court-trained volunteer facilitator.
"The benefits of this flexible approach are obvious. Simply put, many people never engage in the litigation process because it requires them to take time off work, go to what they often see as a strange and intimidating courthouse, and to interact with an adversarial party face-to-face. (Online dispute resolution) provides them a convenient, quicker and less stressful way to engage in the judicial process," Durrant said.6 comments on this story
West Valley City Justice Court began this program in September 2018 and there have been over 600 cases filed. Durrant said they have received strong participation and positive feedback.
According to Durrant, the innovations he discussed are designed to expand access to and affordability of justice in ways that are responsive to what Utah's citizens want, not necessarily what is convenient for courts.
"By using our constitutional responsibility to govern the practice of law and by leveraging rapidly expanding technological advancements, we are delivering new ways of overcoming barriers to justice," Durrant said.