Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Limited free access to PACER records

Aliya Sternstein, Courts offer libraries free access to e-records, Government Executive, November 20, 2007.  (Thanks to ResourceShelf.)  Excerpt:

For the first time, the U.S. court system is providing free access to its online court records at select libraries. Lawyers say that waived fees for the system known as Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, which typically costs 8 cents per search, will empower citizens who choose to represent themselves in court.

On Nov. 8, the government announced that free service would be available at 16 library systems nationwide under a joint project of the courts and the Government Printing Office. The participating libraries must promote the service, administer a user survey and report activity to GPO bimonthly.

National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs said she is sure that most of the public is not familiar with PACER, although it has revolutionized access to court records. "Now it is possible to see the complete docket in most cases before waiting for the cases to be decided and the decisions to be published," she said.

By moving to a free system, the courts particularly will aid people who live in remote locations and individuals who are economically disadvantaged, Fuchs said....By viewing sample pleadings filed in cases, more people may be able to protect their interests without depending entirely on lawyers, Fuchs said....

Comment.  This is a classic case of a half-step in the right direction.  I've often called PACER --which provides case and docket information for most US federal courts-- one of the most useful US government information services that is not yet OA.  So it's an important breakthrough for citizens to have any free access to PACER records at all.  But PACER ought to be fully free online.  Citizens shouldn't have to choose between paying an access fee and traveling to one of 16 meatspace libraries.  This is taxpayer-funded information about cases and dockets in federal courts, necessary for effective participation in a federal case as a plaintiff or defendant.  For these and other reasons, the American Association of Law Libraries adopted a resolution (April 2006) in support of OA to PACER records.