Virginia's Judicial System

About Comprehensive Planning Activities

Maintaining the courts as a core function of our democratic form of government is critically important. In addition to carrying out the basic functions of the justice system, the courts must also be prepared to address special circumstances and needs, such as security and continuity of court services and personnel in the event of natural or man-made disaster. Both the governmental functions and basic operations of the justice system must be able to adapt to societal changes—the opportunities and threats they present and the expectations they create. To ensure that the court system performs its governmental role—its mission—effectively, the courts maintain an ongoing, comprehensive planning process, which identifies the preferred course for meeting responsibilities and monitors progress toward identified ends. Ideally, the planning process will raise the awareness of judges, clerks, and others so they will come to think and act more consciously with respect to the courts’ mission and what they can do to fulfill it.

The comprehensive strategic and operational planning process for Virginia’s courts largely evolved following the 1989 Commission on the Future of Virginia’s Judicial System. What was once a biennial cycle driven by budgetary timetables is now approximately five years long as is more appropriate to long-term planning. Four types of resources inform the planning process. The foremost of these is the body of findings and recommendations provided by expert commissions and study groups, most notably the judiciary’s two Futures Commissions.

The court system’s continuing mission plus the visions and original objectives of past Strategic Plans were developed from the work of the first (1989) commission. That commission strongly influenced the values and strategies that were manifested in the succession of multi-year plans that the Judicial Council and Supreme Court of Virginia adopted over the past two decades. The recommendations of the second Futures Commission, Virginia Courts in the 21st Century: To Benefit All, To Exclude None (2006), will similarly inform the ensuing cycles of the comprehensive planning process.

Another information resource for the planning process is ongoing futures research, which the judicial branch conducts to help identify and understand developments that could shape the future. By a number of different techniques, including environmental scanning, the identification and analysis of trends, and the solicitation of expert opinions through focus groups, the judicial branch gains information about the choices that are available to address various opportunities and threats, and what the consequences of those choices may be. These efforts guide the development and implementation of appropriate strategies within the planning process.

The remaining sources of information driving the planning process are consumer research and constituent participation. The Supreme Court of Virginia conducts surveys periodically to assess citizen perceptions of the Virginia courts; the most recent such survey was in 2007. The Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court also solicits feedback from individuals involved in the judicial process, including judges, clerks, and attorneys. The latest such survey was administered in the spring of 2008. These efforts clarify perceptions of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that the court system faces. These surveys also help identify possible strategies and tasks for the court system and provide feedback regarding their merits.

The judicial branch uses the information from these many sources to draft a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan for consideration by the Judicial Council and Supreme Court of Virginia. After the Supreme Court has formally adopted a set of strategies, the information from these sources then influences the judiciary’s budget requests and the development of specific operational tasks by which to implement the strategies. The Executive Secretary takes an active role in the identification and ultimate fulfillment of these tasks. In order to allocate limited resources effectively, tasks are carefully prioritized before implementation. The planning process includes continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure that tasks are implemented in a timely and effective manner and to assess whether strategies are actually successful in meeting their intended objectives. This operational feedback then becomes part of the planning information cycle.