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.