The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today announced approval of a new SJC Rule 1:19 governing Electronic Access to the Courts. The new rule replaces the former rule, which governed cameras in the courts, and extends it to recognize changes in technology and journalism since the original rule was promulgated. Notably, the rule is designed to recognize so-called citizen journalists.
A PDF of the new rule appears below. (If you cannot see the PDF viewer below, view the document here.)
I was part of the committee that helped draft this new rule. Others included judges, clerks, court administrators, lawyers, media representatives and bloggers. Key provisions of the new rule, as outlined in an SJC announcement today, include:
- The news media are defined as those who are regularly engaged in the reporting and publishing of news or information about matters of public interest. This would include citizen journalists who meet this standard.
- The news media are allowed to use laptop computers and other electronic communication devices inside courtrooms if they are not disruptive to the proceedings.
- Those seeking to cover the courts using the permitted technology are required to register with the SJC’s Public Information Officer, confirm that they meet the definition of news media and agree to follow the provisions in Rule 1:19. A judge has the discretion to permit electronic access by a person who had not registered.
- In addition to one video and one still camera, a second mechanically silent video camera is allowed for use by media other than broadcast television and still photographers.
- Motions to suppress may be electronically recorded.
- If news media ask to record multiple cases in a session on the same day, a judge may reasonably restrict the number of cases that are recorded to prevent undue administrative burdens on the court.
- The rule applies to clerk magistrates conducting public proceedings.
The rule represents a significant step forward for electronic access to Massachusetts courts. It is not perfect in every respect, but it is a milestone nonetheless.