Making the Circuit Court More Fair and Accessible for People Without Lawyers

The CBF/Circuit Court Pro Se Advisory Committee has been hard at work making the courts more user-friendly and accessible for the growing number of people without lawyers and helping shape the future of hybrid access as we come out of the pandemic.

Last month, the Committee was joined by Supreme Court Chief Justice Theis for a meeting to discuss the intersection of statewide and local access to justice issues and initiatives. Some of the key issues the Committee has worked on over this past year are helping make remote access a permanent feature of the courts to improve access, helping the Clerk of the Circuit Court launch a new call center for the public, and improving language access and the process for utilizing interpreters in the Circuit Court.

Jointly created by the CBF and the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2008, the Committee is co-chaired by Judge Jill C. Marisie and Judge Alison Conlon and brings together judges, judicial branch professionals, and justice partners to help make the Circuit Court of Cook County fair and accessible for people without lawyers. The Committee strives to improve the coordination and effectiveness of court services for people without lawyers by drawing on the diverse experience and expertise of its members and collaborating with other local, statewide, and national partners working on these issues. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court amended Rules 45 and 241 to govern the procedures for remote court appearances going forward and developed a Model Local Rule for courts to tailor for their jurisdictions. The Committee was able to support the Circuit Court in drafting a local rule for Cook County, which was entered as a General Administrative Order for the Circuit Court of Cook County.

This year, the Committee has also been able to partner with the Clerk of the Circuit Court on a new call center that serves as a central hub for the public to get information and assistance from the office and access to the court. The Committee worked with the Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Access to Justice and staff from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts to train representatives who are staffing the Clerk’s new call center on several topics that have a large impact on the services and experiences of people without lawyers. These clerks continue to receive support and information from the Committee through this collaboration. 

Another important issue the Committee has worked on has been improving court processes for language access and access to interpreters. The Committee recently created an ad hoc subcommittee that is working to increase awareness and resources for judges, court staff, and the public to improve language access.