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New Commonwealth manual to help court administrators improve access to justice for citizens

28 June 2012
“Courts exist to serve the public and to provide a critical service” — Roger Bilodeau, QC, and Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada

A new manual developed for court officials in the Commonwealth will provide practical guidelines to improve services for citizens with cases at final, appellate and regional courts.

The Handbook of Best Practice for Registrars of Final/Appellate, Regional and International Courts and Tribunals published by the Commonwealth Secretariat covers a number of areas vital to the smooth running of final courts, including human resource management, institutional governance, information and document management, the provision of legal aid and witness protection, and strategies to eradicate inefficiencies and abuses of judicial processes.

Roger Bilodeau, QC, and Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada, who helped to compile the book notes that, “a final court is a critical part of our democracy and governance machinery. It is the ultimate arbiter of legal matters in a jurisdiction, so an efficient institution is needed to provide the public with what is expected.”

He said the manual, which fills a gap left by text books, serves as a quick reference handbook when court or government officials have specific questions about managing a supreme court. It contains practical guidelines with a general application and is relevant and useful for a wide number of jurisdictions.

The manual was written after Commonwealth law ministers called on the Secretariat to assist member countries to improve non-judicial aspects of court administration, case flow management and court administration in order to strengthen access to justice.

An appellate or appeal court is a court that can review and reverse decisions of a trial or other lower court, while a final appellate court – also called a final court of appeal – has the final adjudication on the laws of a country

“Without an efficient court administration there cannot be an expeditious disposal of cases that come before courts,” explained Akbar Khan, Director of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division at the Secretariat. He stressed that efficient delivery of justice is an important element of building public confidence in the rule of law.

The handbook draws on the contributions of registrars and court administrators from various regions across the Commonwealth who had submitted papers and attended a conference hosted by the Supreme Court of Canada in April 2010, where they discussed best practice in registries. This publication is designed to assist registrars in the day-to-day performance of their duties, thereby contributing to improving the administration and efficiency of court procedures and tribunals.

Mr Bilodeau noted that “as officials of supreme courts, we can sometimes feel that we are far apart from each other. The combined effect of the meeting and publication has been to reinforce the links between various supreme courts, final courts and international courts. It has helped to shape our collective contribution to the administration of justice around the world.”

He added: “If courts are properly administered, things are on time and processes are in place to allow for efficient handling of intake, treatment and disposition of all the cases – then registrars can sleep peacefully.”

The handbook may be purchased from the Commonwealth Secretariat Publications Section.