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Federal courts revise broadcast policy to expand public access

By Pat Murphy, BridgeTower Media Newswires//September 27, 2023//

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Federal courts revise broadcast policy to expand public access

By Pat Murphy, BridgeTower Media Newswires//September 27, 2023//

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BOSTON — The federal judiciary has approved a change to its broadcast policy that expands the public’s access to civil and bankruptcy proceedings over the courts’ longstanding pre-COVID policy, which prohibited all remote public access to federal court proceedings.

The new policy will permit judges presiding over civil and bankruptcy cases to provide the public live audio access to non-trial proceedings that do not involve witness testimony.

The revised policy was adopted by the Judicial Conference of the U.S. earlier this month at the conference’s biennial meeting,

According to the judiciary’s press release, the new policy went into effect on Sept. 22, 2023, upon the expiration of the temporary exception to the courts’ remote public ban put into place by the judiciary when access to courthouses was restricted for health and safety reasons during the COVID pandemic.

That exception allowed judges to permit remote audio access to any civil or bankruptcy proceeding.

The conference adopted the revised policy on the recommendation of its Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, with the endorsement of the Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System and the Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System.

The CACM Committee is exploring possible ways to further expand remote public access to civil and bankruptcy proceedings and examining concerns about the potential impact on proceedings involving witness testimony.

Specific issues the committee is studying include whether remote public access to proceedings involving witness testimony could increase the potential for witness intimidation or complicate witness sequestration — vital considerations in ensuring trial proceedings are fair to all parties; and whether the potential for live remote streaming of witness testimony may impact the truth-finding mission of the courts — for example, whether it would alter witness testimony if the proceeding were instantly available to individuals who cannot be seen in the courtroom.

The change approved by the conference does not extend to criminal proceedings. Temporary permission to conduct some criminal proceedings by videoconference or teleconference, which had been granted under the 2020 CARES Act, ended on May 10, 2023. Courts have already discontinued use of virtual criminal proceedings, except as otherwise authorized.

The newly adopted revision also does not affect a judge’s authority to allow parties and counsel to appear remotely by teleconference and videoconference.

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