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October 28 2013

Ontario Reviewing Access to Criminal Court Records

"The Ministry of the Attorney General is reviewing its policies on media access to criminal court records in a bid to make the province 's justice system more open and transparent. The court staff in Ontario are increasingly denying public access to records that legal experts say should be readily available. The ministry, in consultation with the province 's chief justices, is checking to see if policies must be clarified to ensure court staff are properly applying the law. ""In some instances existing policies are not clearly enough expressed and as a result differing practices can develop,"" a ministry spokeswoman said in a statement. ""The ministry continues to work to provide as much consistency in policies and procedures as possible in courts across the province, recognizing the very different case loads, sizes and resources of different court locations."" While the current policy makes it clear that information from court hearings should be made public, some staff have denied that information because of a guideline that forbids them from releasing a ""general criminal record."" Media lawyers and privacy experts say these actions appear to run afoul of the country 's ""open court"" principle. ""The openness of the court is essential to the credibility to the court as a democratic institution,"" said Dan Burnett, president of the Canadian Media Lawyers Association."