Accessible court records are an important component of open government data, but the system for access to those records has been a source of frustration for stakeholders. In addition to the per-page fees to access records from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, users complain about poor searchability and out of date functionality. And recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently affirmed a 2018 decision, that found the government was overcharging for access to PACER documents.
The bipartisan Electronic Court Records Reform Act (H.R.1164) addresses these frustrations by adding requirements for the PACER system to be publicly accessible upon filing, and free of charge to the public, and any parties before the court. It would also require that all documents in the system be searchable and machine-readable while respecting privacy. This legislation will make needed improvements to ensure that the federal courts’ electronic records system has greater efficiency and transparency.
The Data Coalition urges the committees of jurisdiction to advance these bills in order to improve the quality of court data and promote transparency and efficiency in our justice system.