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Judicial Conference Approves Pilot Program for Remote Public Access to Criminal Case Files

Contact: David Sellers, 202-502-2600

The Judicial Conference of the United States today approved creation of a pilot program to allow  selected courts to provide Internet access to criminal case files. The Conference adopted a recommendation  from its Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, and delegated to the Committee the  authority to choose participating courts.  

The action follows last September’s adoption of a Conference policy to make most civil and bankruptcy  case documents available electronically to the same extent they are available at the courthouse. The Conference  at that time voted to prohibit public remote electronic access to criminal case documents, with the understanding  that the prohibition would be re-examined within the next two years.  

Conference members were told in a report accompanying the Committee’s recommendation that the  Federal Judicial Center has agreed to track the participating courts within a two-year time frame and provide  the Committee with information to aid its review of the criminal cases access policy. The Committee’s 2001 Report on Privacy and Public Access to Electronic Case Files is available at www.uscourts.gov/Press_Releases/att81501.pdf.  

In related action, the Conference today voted to amend its policy by allowing Internet access to criminal  case files when requests for documents in certain “high profile” cases impose extraordinary demands on a  court’s resources. Electronic access would be permitted only if all parties consent and the trial judge or presiding  judge of an appellate panel finds that such access is warranted.  

The Conference’s Executive Committee recently had approved a temporary exception to the prohibition  on Internet access to criminal case files. That action was generated by a very high number of media and public  requests for copies of documents in U.S. v. Moussaoui, currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the  Eastern District of Virginia. Today’s action makes the policy exception permanent.  

The Judicial Conference is the principal policy-making body for the federal court system. The Chief  Justice serves as the presiding officer of the Conference, which is composed of the chief judges of the 13 courts  of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International  Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court  system and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. A list of  Conference members is attached.