Hanna Nakano Nov. 13, 2015, 1:47pm

The Illinois Supreme Court has released results of a survey that quantified court users’ experience and perception of court systems in counties across the state. 

The user survey was designed to give the Strategic Planning Committee of the Supreme Court a baseline of user experience, according to Illinois Fourth District Appellate Justice M. Carol Pope, to see where the state court systems stood – and where they could be improved.

Pope chairs the Strategic Planning Committee, which developed the survey in conjunction with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC.) 

“It was pretty risky, frankly, to undertake this project because we had no idea what the results would be,”  Pope said. “I was very pleasantly surprised, and I think judges from the state were too.”

The results were positive overall, according to a release from the state Supreme Court, with all average ratings showing perception of the court at neutral or better. 

But the results did show that different background characteristics directly relate to how people feel about the court system.

African American court users reported lower trust in the court than white or Hispanic court users, and court users with lower incomes reported lower levels of trust in the court. Those using the court system for the first time, those with higher income levels and those living in rural areas all reported higher levels of trust than those in less similar demographic groups. 

Courthouses are already working on strengthening those areas, Pope said. She noted court users with lower income often choose to represent themselves – and the court systems have identified this as an area in which the court systems can be more helpful. 

“The Access to Justice Commission of the Supreme Court is also working on providing help centers to self represented litigants,” Pope said. “Every county in our state now has a self help center and we’re working on improving those.”

Pope also said courts are working on providing interpretive services for downstate systems, where the court can use video telecommunication systems like Apple's FaceTime to connect people with interpreters.

“In Chicago, you’re in a melting pot, but downstate, we have large pockets of immigrants for whom English is not their first language,” said Pope. “I think those types of services are really going to enhance people’s access to justice.”

The court is investigating ways to improve trust from African American court users, Pope said, as well as working on unifying court forms across the state and including virtual courthouse tours online. 

More than 12,000 court users in Illinois' 102 counties completed the surveys over the last two weeks of April 2015. The survey results were then which were analyzed by faculty and students at Loyola University Chicago. The survey is the first of its kind in Illinois.

Pope said in a few years the survey process will likely be completed again to measure the success of any changes put into place as a result of the 2015 survey.

The survey results were heralded by those involved in conducting it, including Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman.

"The survey provides us with valuable information we can use to improve not only public perception of our court system, but also its efficiency and effectiveness," Garman said in a statement. "We plan to conduct a thorough analysis of the survey results to determine what actions we can take to increase public confidence in our legal system even further."

That sentiment was shared by AOIC Director Michael J. Tardy.

"The results of this survey are very encouraging and provide insight into areas for change and improvement, as well as the potential to conduct more surveys in the future," Tardy said. "It is important to note that announcing the results of the court user survey does not mark the end of our efforts. We continue to work to ensure that the court system is fair, efficient and accessible for all."

The full results of the survey can be viewed at the Supreme Court's website, www.illinoiscourts.gov.

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