Lorri Montgomery
Director of Communications
National Center for State Courts
757.259.1525

 

National Court Leadership: Fines and Fees No Way to Pay for Justice

Williamsburg, Va. (March 5, 2015) — On Wednesday, the United States Department of Justice released a report on its investigation into law enforcement in the City of Ferguson, Missouri. Among its findings, the report concludes that the city’s “law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than public safety needs.” The report notes that the practice extended into the city’s court system. 

Since the 1970s, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ)—the association of top judges from the 50 states, DC and the territories—has maintained the position that court functions should be funded from the general operating fund of the states in order that the judiciary can fulfill its obligation of upholding the Constitution and protecting the individual rights of all citizens by providing access to justice for all. 

In 2012, the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA)—the association of management executives that oversee judicial administration in the state courts—produced a position paper entitled “Courts are Not Revenue Centers.” The policy paper outlines a series of principles, including: 

  • Courts should be substantially funded from general governmental revenue sources, enabling them to fulfill their constitutional mandates
  • Neither courts nor specific court functions should be expected to operate exclusively from proceeds produced by fees and miscellaneous charges 
  • Optional local fees or miscellaneous charges should not be established 

Further, both CCJ and COSCA have adopted the “Principles of Judicial Administration” developed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). This includes the principle that “court fees should not be set so high as to deny reasonable access to dispute resolution services provided by the courts. Courts should establish a method to waive or reduce fees when needed to allow access.”

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) provides executive secretariat support to the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, along with 12 other court associations. 

 

The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.