How Orwellian! A new statewide policy to expand remote access to court records is having the opposite effect: one of those “Ignorance is Strength” situations. In some cases, less may be more, but this isn’t one of them.
In a professed effort to increase transparency, the Illinois Supreme Court through the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) is actually reducing it, at least temporarily.
Online transparency is achieved when easily accessible and navigable websites allow ordinary citizens to review court records - not under seal - from the comfort of their own homes, offices, coffee shops, etc. Sure, anyone can access court records if they really want to, but they have to go to the actual courthouse during regular working hours to do so. Not exactly convenient.
The Illinois Supreme Court policy seeks, ultimately, to provide remote access statewide. In the meantime, however, during the rollout phase, access to records previously available online in Madison and other counties is blocked. That is to say, it’s now blocked to the general public, not to attorneys. The latter are apparently serving as beta testers for the new system.
“The new system is in a test phase and will expand as the rollout progresses,” the AOIC’s Christopher Bonjean promises. “The purpose of the new remote access policy is to expand statewide online access. This is something entirely new in Illinois.”
It may be new in Illinois, but remote access to court records has been available in other states for quite some time. Why does progress in our state so often seem like walking up a down escalator?
“The goal is, in a very short time, to have everyone in the state with the type of remote access that was available in Madison County,”says recently retired Madison County Circuit Court Judge David Hylla, former chairman of the Supreme Court’s e-Business Policy Advisory Board, which authorized the changeover.
“The ability to remotely access court records throughout the state will add more transparency,” Hylla says, “and build greater public trust and confidence in our entire justice system.”
More transparency would be good. Right now, we’re going backwards.