Court system expands public access to court records

Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin

Court system expands public access to court records

August 9, 2009 NJNews 

The public will have more access to court records under a new rule adopted by the state court system, Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin announced Wednesday.

The rule change makes more court records available at public access computer terminals in courthouses statewide. It calls for posting on the Internet information about every civil case on file, as well as details about all criminal convictions. The court system will create a permanent advisory committee on public access, launch a public education effort on issues related to open court records, and address the availability of electronic records and other access issues.

"Some of our recommendations are intended to ensure that the judiciary provides free, readily available electronic access to court records wherever appropriate, while others take into account that in today's world of instant access to electronic information litigants need a certain measure of protection from unnecessary disclosure of their financial and other personal records," Justice Albin said Wed nesday. "In some instances, the rule and our recommendations simply reaffirm longstanding policies regarding the public's right to access court records in every court throughout the system."

The changes were developed by the court's Special Committee on Public Access to Court Records, which is headed by Albin. The committee was formed to examine the public access issue in February 2006.

"The report of the Albin committee represents the most comprehensive examination of and update on public access to court records in more than 30 years," said Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. "Under Justice Albin's leadership, the committee presented a revised rule that brings us into the age of electronic access while it addresses privacy concerns. This rule maintains the traditional presumption of access to court records and meets our obligation to sustain transparent court processes.''

Albin's committee included judges, court staff, privacy advocates, media representatives and attorneys from various practice disciplines.

"Together they provided a breadth of experience and differing viewpoints, which enriched our discussions on many difficult issues,'' Albin said. He added, "We are confident that this new rule balances the public's right to an open court system with the recognition that litigants have a right to privacy in certain instances."

The committee's recommendations explain in detail the reasons for some of the changes in the rule. For example, some of the changes to the public access rule were made specifically to protect the privacy of children in families going through divorce, custody disputes or other family issues where the children could be hurt by the public release of certain family information.

"In summary, we believe we have achieved a balance that will keep the work of the courts in full view of the public, but offer responsible protections to individuals who come to us for resolution of their conflicts," Albin said. "With the court's approval, the judiciary can begin the process of incorporating the new (rule) into the day-to-day operations of every court in the state."

Only one recommendation, to shield from public access a complaint on which no probable cause finding has been entered, was rejected by the court. In its comment the court stated, "There is a need for transparency and public scrutiny of the entire judicial process, beginning at the time the complaint is filed."

Comments (0)

New comments are currently disabled.

Email to Friend

Fill in the form below to send this article to a friend:

Email to Friend
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
* Friend's Name:
* Friend's Email:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image
* Message: