Presumption of Access
The United States Supreme Court has recognized the existence of a common law right of access to judicial records and documents.
Additionally, in Illinois, section 16(6) of the Clerks of Courts Act (705 ILCS 105/16(6)) provides for the public’s right to review judicial records.
Specifically, that provision provides, in pertinent part, the following:
“All records, dockets and books required by law to be kept by such clerks shall be deemed public records, and shall at all times be open to inspection without fee or reward, and all persons shall have free access for inspection and examination to such records, docket and books, and also to all papers on file in the different clerks’ offices and shall have the right to take memoranda and abstracts thereto.”
Once documents are filed with the court, they lose their private nature and become part of the court file and public components of the judicial proceeding to which the right of access attaches. This right also applies to transcripts of hearings as they are records of trial court proceedings.
Moreover, embedded in the first amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const. amend. I) is a right of access to court records.
However, under all three sources of the right to access court records, the right is not absolute.
Our supreme court has noted the presumption of access can be rebutted by demonstrating suppression is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.
The case law is clear that the right of access extends to the documents filed with the court.