Court leaders must be able to carry out the fundamental purposes and responsibilities of the courts. To do this, court leaders must ensure that their courts are meeting these purposes and responsibilities and to aspire to meet several specific goals.


The most fundamental aspect of court leadership is an understanding of the purposes and responsibilities of the court and providing the 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. Over time, 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: 1

  • To promote justice in individual cases.
  • To ensure the public perceptions of 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 leaders. They also delineate the essential differences between the role court 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 reality rather than empty rhetoric.


Carrying out the fundamental purposes and responsibilities of a court requires all court leaders, regardless of their specific position, to ensure their respective courts:

  • Protect fundamental constitutional and legal rights and promote the rule of law.
  • Provide access to all who seek court intervention.
  • Support the timely and fair disposition of all cases.

Recognizing that court leaders perform diverse functions in an array of environments, the following are goals that court professionals should aspire to meet:

  • Ensure the court’s mission and vision statements support the fundamental purposes and responsibilities of courts.
  • Provide education on the purposes and responsibilities of the court for court staff.
  • Promote the independence of the judiciary through its budgeting process and independent policy-making functions.


  1. Articulated by Professor Ernest Friesen, first Director of the Institute for Court Management (ICM).