The Codcast: Open court?
The Massachusetts Trial Court this week issued its new rules and regulations regarding public access to court records and it’s fair to say officials erred on the side of less rather than more.
The rules, which were more than two years in the making, were issued in conjunction with the updated court website that is intended to bring the system into the 21st century. But some of the regulations actually place stricter controls on access, especially on criminal proceedings when it comes to retrieving documents and information online.
Docket information for most civil cases as well as some limited probate and Housing Court records will be available online through the new website. The old one required an account and password but the new site is accessible to the public. Court officials restricted access to a number of other cases, including Family Court, domestic assaults, and matters involving juveniles.
The most vexing problem for court administrators was what to do about internet access. While the technology advances make it possible for someone in Springfield to get docket information on a case on the Cape, that is what is also presenting the biggest headache for officials.For criminal cases, court officials say they tried to balance the centuries-old mandate for public access with the Legislature’s intent to limit access to criminal records in line with the beefed-up CORI laws. Allowing internet access would have negated the Legislature’s actions by allowing records to be retrieved at the click of a mouse without any kind of protections or filters. Those looking for records, including reporters and editors, will have to go to clerk’s offices to use the terminals there and then only be able to search by docket number, not by name.