Order in the Courts! RM Principles for the Judiciary

Article excerpt

The dramatic increase in electronic records is profoundly affecting records management practices in the courts. In response, a judiciary conference has published six recordkeeping principles that are intended to serve as a framework for assessing and implementing effective judicial records management practices. The six principles were influenced by ARMA International's Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles[R].

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In her May/June 2013 Information Management article on the application of the Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles[R] to Canadian Regional Government, Julie Gable points out the important distinctions between recordkeeping in the private sector and in government institutions.

While all organizations create and maintain records as part of their business function, Gable writes that the purposes and uses of records in a governmental organization are often directly related to maintaining the democratic process and preserving the rights and obligations of citizens and organizations. Nowhere is this more the case than in our courts.

Recordkeeping has always been a critical component of the judicial process. Since the early colonial times when judges "rode circuit" and local court clerks maintained files in county courthouses, the preservation of an accurate record of actions taken by the court and the parties in a case has been essential. An effective records management program in the judiciary supports these functions:

* Judicial decision-making

* Documentation of legal status and rights

* Public access to court proceedings and decisions

* Enforcement of court orders and judgments

* Preservation of records for appellate review

* Preservation of historical information

Judicial records management includes the creation, use, and preservation of records directly related to the adjudication of cases, as well as non-case-related records that support administrative activities. Court records have been defined in Developing CCJ/COSCA Guidelines for Public Access to Court Rcords: A National Project to Assist State Court, which was jointly developed by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA):

    Any document, information, or other thing
 that is collected, received, or maintained by a
 court or clerk of court in connection with a judicial
 proceeding; any index, calendar, docket, register
 of actions, official record of the proceedings, order,
 decree, judgment, minute, and any information in
 a case management system created by or prepared
 by the court or clerk of court that is related to a
 judicial proceeding; and information maintained
 by the court or clerk of court pertaining to the
 administration of the court or clerk of court office
 and not associated with any particular case.

Court record systems must meet the diverse information needs of judges, court staff, litigants, and the public. The control, maintenance, and preservation of court records must be conducted in a way that ensures public trust and confidence in the judicial process. Despite the importance of records management to the functioning of our judicial system, until now the development of a unifying set of principles has been lacking.

Principles for Judicial Records

Each year COSCA, which is a professional association of the administrators of state courts and the courts of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam, selects a topic of interest to address in an annual white paper. For 2013, COSCA and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), which is an independent, nonprofit court improvement organization that serves as a clearinghouse for research information and comparative data to support state court judicial administration improvements, collaborated on the recently released white paper "To Protect and Preserve; Standards for Maintaining and Managing 21st Century Court Records. …