Access to Court Records
Policy for Access to Supreme Court of Canada Court Records
Effective date of policy: February 9, 2009
4.1 Access and Registered Access
4.2 Case File
4.3 Court Records
4.6 On-site Access
4.8 Personal Data Identifiers
4.9 Personal Information
4.10 Remote Access
4.11 Sensitive Case Files
10. Policy Review
The objective of this policy is to set out the principles governing public access to court records maintained by the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada (hereinafter “SCC” or “the Court”) as defined below.
The SCC will provide public access to its court records in a manner that balances the constitutional requirement of open courts against other rights and interests of the public and participants to judicial proceedings, namely privacy and security of individuals and the proper administration of justice.
This policy sets out the principles that apply to access to court records by members of the public provided by the Court and any limitations on that access that may arise in a particular case including the limitations noted below. Nothing in this policy limits the availability of court records to the members of the Court, the Registrar, the Deputy Registrar and SCC staff.
This policy applies to court records in all proceedings that come before the Court.
This policy applies to all court records in any form, whether these records are created, stored or made available on paper or in microfilm or digital format.
The public access provided for in this policy is subject to any order of a court that continues to apply to SCC proceedings, an order of the SCC, or any applicable statutory or common law provision regarding:
- the public right to know of the existence of a case file;
- the public right of access to certain court records;
- the publication of information contained in court records and / or in a case file or information revealed during an oral hearing of a proceeding.
Access means the ability to view and to obtain a copy of a court record. Registered access refers to access exercised by persons that have been designated by the Registrar as having the right to extended or bulk access to court records.
Case file means the file maintained by the Records Centre of the SCC for a judicial proceeding that contains court records filed by litigants or produced by the Court. Court records contained in a case file may be in paper, microfilm or digital format.
Court records include any information or document that is collected, received, stored, maintained or archived by the SCC in connection with its judicial proceedings, which includes, but is not limited to:
- calendars of hearings;
- case indexes maintained by the Registry or Records Centre;
The following are excluded from the definition of court records:
- case notes, personal notes, legal opinions, memorandum, drafts of reasons for judgment and similar documents or information prepared and used by members of the Court, the Registrar, the Deputy Registrar or SCC staff.
- information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege or pertains to management and administration of the Court, e.g. judicial training programs, scheduling of judges and hearings and statistics of judicial activity.
- records maintained by SCC staff that are not connected with SCC judicial proceedings.
Docket refers to the list of proceedings produced by the SCC automated Case Management System in which court staff collect and store information about each proceeding:
- the type of case;
- file number;
- names of parties;
- nature of proceedings,
- list, and corresponding filing dates, of documents present in the case file;
- dates of hearings; and
- dispositions with their corresponding dates.
Judgment refers to any decision rendered by the Court, or any of its judges or the Registrar and Deputy Registrar, including endorsements and orders, as well as any disposition or reasons given in connection with such decision.
On-site access to court records means access at the SCC building or access that requires the assistance of SCC staff, e.g. obtaining digital or fax copies of court records from the SCC Records Centre by making a request in person or by e-mail or telephone.
Parties include the parties, their counsel and their authorized agents.
Personal data identifiers include elements of personal information that, when combined together or combined with the name of an individual, would enable the direct identification of the individual and pose a serious threat to the individual's personal security.
Personal information is information about an identifiable individual, including:
- information relating to the age of the individual, including day and month of birth;
- any identifying number (including telephone, social insurance or financial), address (including civic, postal, e-mail), symbol or other particular assigned to the individual;
- information relating to unique physical characteristics of the individual, including bio-metrical information such as fingerprints.
Personal information does not include:
- an individual’s name; and
- the name and business address of a lawyer who is acting as counsel or agent for any party to a proceeding.
Remote access means the ability to access court records without having to be physically present where the records are kept, and without needing the assistance of court staff, through the SCC website.
Sensitive case files are case files that contain information that falls under one or more of the following categories:
- information subject to a publication ban;
- information subject to limitations on public access;
- information subject to a sealing order;
- information classified as confidential (dealing with issues of national security such as terrorist matters).
Personal information, including personal data identifiers, shall not be included in a court record unless it is required for the disposition of the case.
- When the parties prepare any document or court record that
is intended to be part of a case file, they are responsible for:
- advising the Court if the document or court record is subject to a publication ban, sealing order, or contains information classified as confidential, in accordance with the requirements of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada, SOR/2002-156;
- limiting the disclosure of personal data identifiers and personal information to what is necessary for the disposition of the case; and
- advising the Court whether the document or court record includes personal data identifiers and personal information that, if combined with the individual’s name and made widely accessible to the public (e.g., posted on the internet) could pose a serious threat to the individual's personal security (e.g., identity theft, stalking and harassment).
- When required by the Rules or a Notice to the Profession, or
when requested by the Registrar, parties must file a redacted
version of a document or court record that omits:
- information subject to a publication ban
- information subject to a sealing order
- information classified as confidential
- personal data identifiers and personal information that, if combined with the individual's name and made widely accessible to the public, could pose a serious threat to the individual's personal security.
- Where a redacted version of the document or court record is filed, the Court may determine that members of the public may only have access to the redacted version of the document or court record. Such a determination will be made at the discretion of the Registrar, who will advise whether the restriction of access to the redacted version of the document or court record applies to remote access, on-site access or both.
When court staff prepare documents intended to be part of the case file, they are responsible for avoiding the disclosure of personal data identifiers, if appropriate and possible, and limiting the disclosure of personal information to what is necessary and relevant for the purposes of the document.
Fees are payable to the Registrar for services related to access to court records, such as photocopies, as set out in Schedule A to the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada. There are no fees for consulting case files.
Members of the public and media are entitled to access court records in the format in which they are maintained. Persons who require assistance in accessing documents should contact the Registry or Records Centre.
Under s. 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, litigants are entitled to use either English or French in oral or written communications with the Court, and accordingly, court records that are filed by litigants are provided in the language used by the litigant without modification.
Members of the public will be provided with appropriate search functions that allow for efficient remote access to court records and limit the risk of improper use of personal information. Search interfaces are available in both official languages.
Parties and members of the public shall have on-site access to all judgments. In addition, parties and members of the public shall have remote access to those judgments on appeals that the SCC has available in digital format.
Parties and members of the public shall have both on-site and remote access to docket information that the SCC has available in digital format, provided that personal data identifiers are not made remotely accessible.
Parties and members of the public shall only have on-site access to court records included in case files, except as otherwise provided in this policy.
Parties and members of the public shall have both on-site and remote access to those case summaries that are prepared by court staff and stored in the Case Management System and accessed through SCC Case Information.
Parties and members of the public may obtain copies of audio or video recordings of appeal hearings through external service providers as the Court may advise from time to time. There may be fees associated with obtaining copies of audio and video recordings of proceedings.
In addition to the records already listed in this policy, members of the public shall have remote access to those court records, or portions thereof, listed in this subsection:
- the electronic version of any factum on an appeal filed on or after February 9, 2009, subject to the following conditions. An electronic version of the factum must be available. The factum must not be subject to any limitation on access by court order or law, or as set out in paragraph 3.4 of this policy. Where a factum is redacted as set out in paragraph 5.2 of this policy, only the redacted electronic version will be available for remote access.
- webcasts of appeal hearings on or after February 9, 2009, provided that the digital recording of the appeal hearing is available and is not subject to any limitation on access by court order or law or as set out in paragraph 3.4 of this policy.
Any member of the public may request to be registered with the Registrar of the SCC as having the right to access court records that are not available remotely pursuant to this policy, referred to as extended access, or to bulk access as set out below. The request shall be made in the form prescribed by the Registrar, who shall decide whether the request, or part thereof, should be granted. In deciding whether or not to provide registered access, and what specific terms and conditions should be imposed, the Registrar shall take into account the following:
- the connection between the purposes for which access is sought and the rationale for the constitutional right to open courts;
- the possibility of a detrimental impact on the rights of individuals and on the proper administration of justice, if the request is granted; and
- the adequacy of existing legal or non-legal norms, and remedies for their breach, if improper use is made of the information contained in the court records to which access is granted. This includes, but is not restricted to, existing privacy laws and professional norms such as journalistic ethics.
Any person who has registered access to court records may request bulk access to a portion or to the entirety or portions of court records from multiple case files. Bulk access shall be governed by a special agreement with the Registrar that may include the following terms:
- the information should be regularly checked against the source of the court record for accuracy, if this information is to be published or re-distributed; and
- any use of the information contained in the court record should comply with provincial and federal privacy and credit reporting legislation, as well as any other applicable law, and such information should not be used for any improper purpose.
Registered access is subject to the limitations set out in paragraph 3.4 of this policy.
The Court shall put into place proper security, logging, archiving, disposition and audit functions for the management of court records.
After a case file has been sent to Library and Archives Canada, a microfilm copy of the case file shall be accessible on-site only and parties and members of the public may request copies of specific documents from the Records Centre. Printing copies from microfilm may be subject to fees as noted in paragraph 6.1 above.
The Court shall inform the public and participants to the judicial system of the extent to which court records are made available to the public, and of the measures that are taken pursuant to this policy to protect their personal information.
The Court shall regularly review this policy to ensure that it is maintained up to date and further developed as required.
Supreme Court Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. S-26.
Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada, SOR/2002-156.
Model Policy for Access to Court Records in Canada (PDF format, 102 kb) (Canadian Judicial Council)