Purpose of the Courts

Court Leadership & the Purpose of the Courts

The most fundamental aspect of court employment and court leadership is an understanding of the purposes and responsibilities of the court and providing the service and leadership to ensure that these continuously guide court operations, policies, and procedures.  Pursuant to the judicial authority granted in the United States Constitution and the constitutions of States and territories and applicable laws, the primary responsibility of the judicial branch is to provide an impartial forum for the resolution of disputes. This ensures the rule of law and protection of individual rights. This fundamental responsibility of the judicial branch has been expanded to encompass other areas of importance, including but not limited to the following:

  • Ensuring access to the court process for all who seek it.
  • Managing the business of the court in a manner that promotes efficiency, transparency and the opportunity for fair and timely disposition of the cases filed.
  • Exercising leadership among other justice-related agencies to develop strategies that join the interests of all three branches of government, recognizing that the court cannot operate in isolation, while, at the same time, must maintain its independence.

The longstanding and widely accepted “purposes of courts” in carrying out these responsibilities are the following:

  • To promote individual justice in individual cases.
  • To ensure the public perceptions of individual justice in individual cases.
  • To provide an impartial forum for the resolution of legal disputes.
  • To protect individuals against the arbitrary use of governmental power.
  • To provide for a formal record of legal status.
  • To deter criminal behavior.
  • To rehabilitate individuals convicted of crime.
  • To provide for the separation of convicted individuals from society where necessary.

Over time, these fundamental purposes of the courts expanded to include other areas of emphasis, including the following:

  • To protect vulnerable populations — abused and neglected children and adults, from the abuse of power in any form.
  • To promote coordination with justice, public health, social service and other agencies to address common problems underlying the court’s criminal and civil caseload, including substance use and mental health.

These fundamental purposes and responsibilities of courts apply regardless of the specific jurisdiction in which a court functions and provide both the philosophical and legal framework for the daily work of all court employees and leaders. They also delineate the essential differences between the role of court employees/leaders and those professionals who work in other public sector entities.

Purposes and responsibilities of courts should never be confused with efficiency or even the constitutional means of the separation of powers, judicial independence, and the inherent powers of the courts. Courts exist to do justice, to guarantee liberty, to enhance social order, to resolve disputes, to maintain rule of law, to provide for equal protection, and to ensure due process of law. They exist so the equality of individuals and the government is a reality rather than simply empty rhetoric.