SJC approves new rule governing media, electronic access to courts

Issue June 2012

The justices of the Supreme Judicial Court announced on March 2 the approval of SJC Rule 1:19 governing "Electronic Access to the Courts," effective July 1, 2012. After the new rule has been in operation for a year, the Court will review it to determine whether further revisions are needed.

The new Rule 1:19 is designed to recognize the changes in technology and journalism since the original
rule was promulgated and to maintain the necessary order and decorum in the Massachusetts courts. Among the major changes are the following:

  • News media are defined as those who are regularly engaged in the reporting and publishing of news or information about matters of public interest. This would include citizen journalists who meet this standard.
  • News media are allowed to use laptop computers and other electronic communication devices inside courtrooms if they are not disruptive to the proceedings.
  • Those seeking to cover the courts using the permitted technology are required to register with the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Judicial Court, confirm that they meet the definition of news media, and agree to follow
    the provisions in Rule 1:19. A judge has the discretion to permit electronic access by a person who had not registered.
  • In addition to one video and one still camera, a second mechanically silent video camera is allowed for use by media other than broadcast television and still photographers.
  • Motions to suppress may be electronically recorded.
  • If news media ask to record multiple cases in a session on the same day, a judge may reasonably restrict
    the number of cases that are recorded to prevent undue administrative burdens on the court.
  • The rule applies to clerk magistrates conducting public proceedings.
  • As in the original rule, covert photography, recording or transmission is prohibited; a judge retains the right to limit or suspend electronic coverage if it would create a harmful consequence; and the media are required to make arrangements for sharing of video and still photographs. The new rule provides that minors and sexual assault victims may not be photographed without the consent of the judge. It continues the current restrictions on recording or photographing voir dire hearings concerning jurors or prospective jurors, side-bar conferences, conferences between counsel and client, and frontal or close-up photography of jurors and prospective jurors.