US Supreme Court plans to improve access to documents

US Supreme Court plans to improve access to documents
An exterior view of the US District Court on December 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

WASHINGTON - US Chief Justice John Roberts said on Wednesday the Supreme Court is launching a new case-filing system that will enable the public for the first time to view all court papers on the court's own website.

The high court has been accused by critics of being behind the times and clinging to internal workings that are too secretive. But Roberts said in his annual report on the US judicial system that America's courts must be cautious when considering technological advances.

New systems can be adopted only when it is certain they do not hinder the ability of courts to adjudicate cases "fairly and efficiently," Roberts said.

Roberts wrote in the report that, perhaps as soon as 2016, "all filings at the court ... will be available to the legal community and the public without cost on the court's website."

Roberts said that although lawyers will then be able to file everything electronically, which is common practice in the federal court system, the court will still accept paper filings from petitioners who do not have legal representation.

Currently, only a small proportion of Supreme Court documents, including its rulings, are available on its public website. Other documents, including all the briefs filed by litigants, are available online only through third-party legal research sites and a news website that covers the court called SCOTUSblog.

The court has faced criticism from some quarters, including from media organisations, about a perceived lack of transparency. The court does not allow TV cameras to record its proceedings, although it does issue audio recordings of oral arguments.

Roberts wrote that the courts "must often introduce new technologies at a more measured pace than other institutions, especially those in private industry."

As a result, court administrators "will sometimes seem more guarded in adopting cutting-edge innovations, and for good reasons, considering some of the concerns that the judiciary must consider in deploying new technologies."

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