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Implementing Court Unification - A Map for Reform

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1979
53 pages
This paper outlines some of the problems which can be expected during the implementation of court unification and recommends some solutions to solve these problems, based on a literature review and interviews in 11 selected States.
Multiple courts and excessive local autonomy have been a problem for State judiciaries throughout their histories. In 1906, Dean Foscoe Pound recommended consolidation of courts based on the reforms contained in the English Judicature Act of 1873. Although scholars still disagree regarding the definition of court unification, a unified court system may be regarded as one containing five elements: (1) consolidated and simplified court structure, (2) centralized administration, (3) centralized rulemaking, (4) centralized budgeting, and (5) State financing. Proposals for simplifying the court structure advocate one or two appellate courts and one or two trial courts, thus permitting four variations. When a State decides to unify its court system, it faces both systemic and technical problems of implementation. An example from Kentucky illustrates the dynamics of the implementation process and shows how much the success of a policy depends on adequate implementation. Systemic problems may include a lack of information from the former system, insufficient coordination and cooperation, inadequate funds, and inadequate lead time. Technical problems may relate to confusion on the part of citizens, the creation of standardized forms and procedures, staffing, adaptation of facilities, and administration and management. Implementation of court unification can resemble a maze. Different States experience different problems, however and implementers should expect difficulties. Additional problems and solutions, case illustrations, and 89 footnotes are provided.

Date Published: January 1, 1979