SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexicans with difficulty reading and writing may soon have better access to New Mexico’s legal system. The state’s Supreme Court recently approved the statewide use of scribing services in courts. The service will help people fill out court forms.

“The scribing program further expands access to justice in New Mexico for people without a lawyer,” New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon said in a press release. “It can be challenging and frustrating for people to navigate court processes that are unfamiliar to them. The assistance of a scribe to fill out a form helps people move their legal cases through the justice system.”

A handful of judicial districts have been trying out the services in recent years. Courts in Curry, Roosevelt, and Bernalillo County have been test piloting the program. With promising results, the New Mexico Supreme Court has decided to allow the program to expand to more locations in the state.

“The scribing program has been incredibly successful in the Second Judicial District Court [in Bernalillo County], Chief Judge Marie Ward said in a press release. “It has enabled us to better meet the needs of our community and has helped ensure that everyone has an opportunity to present their case to a judge and navigate the court system.”

The expansion of the program is optional for courts across the state. But Barry Massey, a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts says scribing services fill an important need.

“There is a need for this sort of assistance because growing numbers of people represent themselves in civil legal matters,” Massey says. “And New Mexico has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country and New Mexico has a significant population of people with limited English proficiency (LEP).”

The expansion of scribing services could be particularly helpful in civil cases (i.e. not criminal cases). Civil cases, which require people to fill out forms – sometimes without legal help – allow New Mexicans to legally change their names, settle a debt, make complaints against public officials, and claim property, among other issues. Across the state, civil cases make up the majority of cases seen by district courts, according to Massey.