RESOLUTION ON IMPROVING THE DELIVERY OF JUSTICE IN THE DOMESTIC RELATIONS DIVISION OF PHILADELPHIA FAMILY COURT
WHEREAS, the Domestic Relations Division of the Philadelphia Family Court, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, is charged with responsibility for profound and life-altering decisions about family matters.
WHEREAS, tens of thousands of people bring their family crises to the Domestic Relations Division each year.
WHEREAS, 85% to 90% of custody, support, and protection from abuse (PFA) litigants lack legal representation.
WHEREAS, the Domestic Relations Division and Family Court leadership is committed to and has strived to improve the administration of justice in the Domestic Relations Division, including addressing the needs of pro se litigants, and has worked cooperatively with the Bar and the public interest advocacy organizations to respond to litigant needs.
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association's Chancellor's Pro Bono Task Force found that public resources are unable to meet the demand for representation and that family law matters are the largest single area of need for pro bono service.
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association is committed to expanding pro bono resources for these families.
WHEREAS, the Women's Law Project has studied and analyzed the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court pursuant to national court performance standards which focus on: Access to Justice; Expedition and Timeliness; Equality, Fairness, and Integrity; Independence and Accountability; and Public Trust and Confidence.
WHEREAS, the Women's Law Project published its findings and recommendations in April 2003 in a report entitled Justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court: A Report to the Community.
WHEREAS, the report finds that Domestic Relations Division falls short of national court performance standards in a number of ways including: significant underfunding, insufficient resources and staff, unreliable public access, inadequate information and assistance given to pro se litigants, enormous caseloads, untimely processing of cases, and insufficient security.
WHEREAS, the limited progress in achieving opening Domestic Relations proceedings to the public is of particular concern to the Philadelphia Bar Association in light of the Resolution it adopted in 2000 supporting the opening of such proceedings.
WHEREAS, the report recognizes that the Domestic Relations Division cannot significantly improve its performance if maintained at the current inadequate level of economic support and personnel and in its current building.
WHEREAS, the report recommends development of a long-term strategy by the Court in cooperation with the larger community, including the Philadelphia Bar Association, the public interest legal community, and key stakeholders in the community at large.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association hereby:
1. Expresses support for increased public accountability about funding and resource allocation in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania.
2. Expresses support for improving the delivery of justice in the Domestic Relations Division of the Philadelphia Family Court through:
a. increased funding, personnel, and resources;
b. the provision of assistance and information for pro se litigants;
c. improved facilities, security, scheduling, and timeliness; and
d. the fulfillment of the constitutional mandate of open court.
3. Reiterates its commitment to expanding pro bono resources for litigants.
4. Requests that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the First Judicial District provide the leadership necessary to bring about improvement in the delivery of justice in the Domestic Relations Division of the Philadelphia Family Court.
5. Agrees to pursue efforts to work with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the First Judicial District, including participation in any task force or committee convened to develop strategies for improving the delivery of justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court.
6. Authorizes and directs the Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association to take whatever steps are necessary to effectuate this resolution.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: July 24, 2003