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Issue 7: Enhancing Public Understanding, Trust, and Confidence

How should the judiciary promote public trust and confidence in the federal courts in a manner consistent with its role within the federal government?

Issue Description 

The ability of courts to fulfill their mission and perform their functions is based on the public’s trust and confidence in the system. In large part, the judiciary earns that trust and confidence by faithfully performing its duties, adhering to ethical standards, and effectively carrying out internal oversight, review, and governance responsibilities. However, public perceptions of the judiciary are also often colored by misunderstandings about the institutional role of the federal courts and the limitations of their jurisdiction, as well as attitudes toward federal court decisions on matters of public interest and debate.

Changes in social networking and communication will continue to play a key role in how the judiciary is portrayed to and viewed by members of the public. These changes provide the judicial branch an opportunity to communicate broadly with greater ease and at far less cost. However, they also present the challenge of ensuring that judiciary information is complete, accurate, and timely. For the judiciary, this challenge is an especially difficult one because judges are constrained in their ability to participate in public discourse. This plan includes two strategies to enhance public understanding, trust and confidence in the judiciary:

Strategy 7.1 

Assure high standards of conduct and integrity for judges and staff.

Background and Commentary. Judges and judiciary staff are guided by codes of conduct, internal control policies, and robust accountability mechanisms within the judiciary that work together to uphold standards relating to conduct and the management of public resources. These mechanisms include complaint and dispute resolution processes, audits, and reviews of judiciary operations.

Accountability mechanisms must address critical risks and keep pace with changes in regulations and business practices. The regular review and update of policies, along with efforts to ensure that they are accessible to judges and staff, will help to improve judiciary compliance and controls. In addition, guidance relating to conduct that reflects current uses of social media and other technologies can help to avoid the inappropriate conveyance of sensitive information.

This strategy emphasizes up-to-date policies, timely education, and relevant guidance about ethics, integrity, and accountability. The strategy also relies upon the effective performance of critical internal controls, audit, investigation, and discipline functions.

Goal 7.1a:   Enhance education and training for judges and judiciary employees on ethical conduct, integrity, and accountability.

Goal 7.1b:   Ensure the integrity of funds, information, operations, and programs through strengthened internal controls and audit programs.

Goal 7.1c:   Perform investigative, disciplinary, and other critical self-governance responsibilities to achieve appropriate accountability.

Strategy 7.2 

Improve the sharing and delivery of information about the judiciary.

Background and Commentary. Sources of news, analysis and information about the federal judiciary continue to change, as do communication tools used by the public. These changes can present challenges to the accurate portrayal of the judiciary and its work. At the same time, it is now easier to communicate directly with the public, which can help to improve the public’s understanding of the federal judiciary’s role and functions. The judiciary must keep pace with ongoing changes in how people access news and information when formulating its own communications practices.

Voluntary public outreach and civic education efforts by judges and court staff take place inside courthouses and in the community. These efforts could be facilitated through greater coordination and collaboration with civic education organizations. Resources to help judges and court staff participate in educational outreach efforts are available from the Administrative Office, the Federal Judicial Center, and private court administration and judges’ associations.

The federal judiciary also serves as a model to other countries for its excellence, judicial independence, and the delivery of equal justice under the law. The executive branch, in carrying out its foreign relations duties, often requests the assistance of federal judges in communicating with representatives of other countries about the mission, core values, and work of the federal judiciary.

Goal 7.2a:   Develop a communications strategy that considers the impact of changes in journalism and electronic communications.

Goal 7.2b:   Communicate and collaborate with organizations outside the judicial branch to improve the public’s understanding of the role and functions of the federal judiciary.

Goal 7.2c:   Facilitate the voluntary participation by judges and court staff in public outreach and civic education programs.

Goal 7.2d:   Communicate with judges in other countries to share information about the federal judiciary in our system of justice and to support rule-of-law programs around the world.