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The SJC has approved new Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, and a new Rule 1:24 on Protection of Personal Identifying Information, both effective November 1, 2016.

Below is the Statement of the Justices:

The Supreme Judicial Court has approved Trial Court Rule XIV, Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, which governs access to court records in the trial courts. The Court’s approval of the section of the rule that governs remote access by attorneys through the Attorney Portal (Section 5(b)) is provisional and the Court will revisit this section in the fall of 2016.

Rule XIV sets out procedures to access court records at the counter in the clerk’s office of every trial court, at a public access terminal in the clerk’s office, and remotely through the Internet. The rule attempts to balance the public’s interest in having accessible records with the legislative intent to limit access to criminal records as reflected in the CORI statute and the privacy interests of litigants, victims, and witnesses in some court cases, such as juvenile proceedings, domestic violence cases and child custody and other family matters. It contains provisions addressing access to records in the courthouse, requests for compiled and bulk data, and remote access to electronic court records through a Public Internet Portal and an Attorney Portal.

Because of reasonable concerns that were expressed after recent changes were made limiting the information that had been available to attorneys through the Attorney Portal, the Justices have approved the section of the rule (Section 5(b)) that governs remote access through the Attorney Portal on a provisional basis. The Justices asked the Chief Justice of the Trial Court to address the concerns that were raised and to make a recommendation no later than the end of October 2016 on whether changes should be made in Section 5(b). Meanwhile, consistent with Rule XIV, the Trial Court is expanding the information that can be viewed remotely through the Public Internet Portal to include searchable criminal docket information, beginning with the Superior Court. The Trial Court plans to make  criminal docket information in other court departments available on the Internet over the coming months.

Rule XIV was developed by a Trial Court committee chaired by Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat. The committee worked for over two years  to develop a rule that attempts to balance  various  interests and clarify procedures. In the course of its work, the committee held a public hearing and also published its proposed rule for public comment for a four month period. The public comments on Proposed Rule XIV Uniform Rules on Access to Court Records are available on a web page on the court system’s website.

In addition to approving Rule XIV, the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court asked the Chief Justice of the Trial Court to appoint a standing committee, with  representation from the courts, the bar, and the media, to monitor implementation  and make recommendations for changes in the rules to respond to the rapid and significant nature of technological changes.

The Justices also approved a new SJC Rule 1:24, governing personal identifying information in court documents. This rule, modeled on SJC guidelines that have been in place since 2009, restricts parties and the courts from including certain personal identifying information in court documents. Both new rules will become effective on November 1, 2016.

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