On December 9th, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia rejected a media challenge that alleged that the Court’s access policy violates section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it precludes wholly unfettered inspection of court records. The Court held that the Charter guarantees no such right, which would be inconsistent with a court’s responsibility for supervising the handling of its records.
The policy that the applicants challenged requires those seeking access to court records in criminal appeals to fill out of a form. Based on the content of completed forms, the Registrar may refer the request to the Chief Justice, who may seek input from the parties. In practice, if parties who are consulted don’t agree that the Court should provide access, those seeking access must file a formal application for access.
The media brought its application after the Court denied administrative access to records (filed in an application for bail pending appeal) that involved the investigation of a police officer for sexual misconduct. The media argued that the policy reverses the burden of justification provided for by Dagenais/Mentuck.
Chief Justice Bauman disagreed, stating:
Unfettered public access to court records is not the promise of the open court principle. That access is subject to supervision by the court, in recognition of the need to protect social values of superordinate importance. Judges have the discretion to order restrictions on access, exercised within the boundaries set by the principles of the Charter:
There is also nothing unlawful, Chief Justice Bauman held, in requiring requesters to confront a matter of administration (which was not associated with any proven material delay) in order to relieve the parties to a proceeding from preemptively seeking a sealing order.