I use Facebook. I blog. I am a registered member of various online services, as well as several offline ones. Google, Facebook, several IT forums, credit card companies, my bank, and my employer (to name a few) can develop a fairly good picture of what I do and where I go on a regular basis. They can predict what I can, and likely will, do. While these issues are important, and I continue to write about them, for this post I want to attend to public documents. Specifically, I want to think about the implications of making legal decisions and court transcripts publicly accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
Welcome to Law, Online
As mentioned I use Google. I also use a series of other search engines, as I’m sure many others do. Some are specialized for journal articles, others for books to borrow, yet others for books to buy, and so on. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I also search for law cases to read up on (yes, I realize that makes it sound like I have too much time on my hands. It’s for research purposes, really!). Members of the Canadian public can request access to judgments that have been made in a Canadian court; while it may cost the first person to request the transcript a few dollars, subsequent visitors will face negligible costs where costs are imposed at all. Digitized judgments are increasingly placed online for major search engines index and which members of the public can access them at any time. This is done in accordance with precedent – citizens have always been able to read transcripts of court cases by visiting the court where the judgment is kept, finding the documents, and sitting down and reading them. The digitization of such documents (the argument goes) is just a natural extension of past systems of public use.