New Hampshire Supreme Court Issues Amended Emergency Order Restoring Some In-Person Court Operations and Public Access
Gradual expansion to full in-person operations to follow Supreme Court pilot
CONCORD, NH – The New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a new order on Friday, April 23, amending the courts’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic in accordance with the Governor’s Declared State of Emergency, and will be gradually expanding in-person court operations within the coming months. The process will begin with the Supreme Court, which will serve as a pilot court for the expansion of in-person operations and for increased public access to courthouses.
As of April 27, the Supreme Court’s clerk’s office will be open to in-person services during normal business hours, the Law Library will offer in-person, two-at-a-time appointments so that litigants in all courts can prepare for their cases, and public access to one public kiosk at the Supreme Court building will be provided (usage will be self-serve). The Supreme Court will resume in-person oral arguments as of May 5.
In the Superior Court, in-person hearings will be expanded to include suppression hearings, contested plea and sentencing hearings, contested violation of probation hearings, Drug Court termination hearings, and contested civil hearings and bench trials. This is in addition to the grand jury and jury trials that will continue to be conducted on an in-person basis.
The Circuit Court will resume in-person final hearings in domestic violence or stalking cases and in adjudicatory hearings in abuse/neglect cases.
Superior and Circuit Court courthouses will remain open for parties of scheduled hearings, those reporting for jury service, those filing for emergency relief, those who are parties to a landlord/tenant case and must file required documents or make rental payments, or for members of the press. Drop boxes for filing pleadings or emergency filings are available either outside or in the entranceway of all court facilities. Citizens seeking information regarding court cases or requesting to view files will not have in-person access to the clerks’ offices, but may contact the Information Center at 855-212-1234 for assistance.
During the past pandemic year, the courts have remained open and responsive to the needs of the public. By carefully following public health experts’ advice, adhering to CDC guidelines, and working with partners in the Executive Branch and the legal community, the courts were able to provide access to court services and keep cases moving forward.
The Judicial Branch continues to work towards full resumption of normal operations by early to mid-summer. The courts will issue the next emergency order in May and it will reflect additional steps to be taken. Courts will also continue to look for ways to leverage remote technologies to enhance the delivery of court functions.
With vaccines readily and widely available in New Hampshire, all courthouse visitors are strongly encouraged to become fully vaccinated. Other safety measures such as social distancing, masks, and screening questionnaires remain in effect at this time to provide continued protection for both the public and courthouse staff from COVID-19.
If you have questions about whether you should go to a courthouse, please call 855-212-1234. More information and the Supreme Court’s extended and amended orders can be found at: https://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/orders/index.htm.
Additional Information about New Hampshire Courts’ Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
- The Supreme Court switched to Webex video for remote oral arguments when needed and was able to continue with a full calendar throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with 101 oral arguments heard, 782 final orders issued, 1,389 briefs filed and appendices docketed, and 673 new appeals and other cases filed.
- By developing a COVID-19 jury trial protocol, and switching to video and telephonic hearings, and equipping staff for remote operations, the Superior Court was able to move forward and avoid a case processing backlog. More than 44,170 hearings were conducted in 11 superior courts during the pandemic and 24 jury trials have been held since August 2020 and all Superior Courts are now conducting jury trials. During this time, 8,790 new felony cases as well as 5,181 new civil cases were filed, and 195,995 electronic pleadings were accepted. In addition, the Superior Court convened a statewide grand jury process to ensure all counties could conduct grand jury proceedings.
- By moving primarily to telephonic proceedings and some Webex hearings, the Circuit Court held more than 132,000 hearings since the pandemic began. In addition, the Circuit Court worked with external stakeholders to institute a new process for accepting domestic violence / stalking petitions by email to ensure safe access to emergency protective orders during the pandemic. To address legal needs exacerbated by the pandemic, the Circuit Court increased Alternative Dispute Resolution offerings by piloting two mediation programs -- landlord/tenant mediation and small claims post-judgment mediation.
- The Trial Court Information Center, with no interruption in service, answered every call to the N.H. trial courts, providing more than 400,000 callers with case-related and procedural information between March 2020 and March 2021.