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Guidelines for Public Access to Court Records

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I. Introduction.

It is the express policy of the Judicial Branch of New Hampshire to allow public access to court records. This policy is intended to recognize and effectuate the public's rights to access proceedings under the New Hampshire Constitution.

    The establishment of priorities among requests for action from the clerk's and register's staff must be set in order to guarantee the efficient provision of services, and in recognition that the primary function of the Office of Clerk of Court and the Register of Probate Court is to process pending cases so as to insure every citizen the right to speedy resolution of disputes.

    In further recognition of the diversity of caseload from court to court within the State, the establishment of priorities shall remain a matter of discretion to be determined by the Administrative Justice at each level of court, in consultation with the clerk of court or the register, hereinafter referred to as clerks.


II. Records Subject to Inspection.

A presumption exists that all court records are subject to public inspection.

    The public right of access to specific court records must be weighed and balanced against nondisclosure interests as established by the Federal and/or New Hampshire Constitution or by statutory provision granting or requiring confidentiality.

    Unless otherwise ordered by the court, the following categories of cases shall not be open to public inspection: juvenile cases (delinquency, CHINS, abuse/neglect, termination of parental rights, adoption); pending or denied application for search or arrest warrants; grand jury records; applications for wire taps and orders thereon; and any other record to be kept confidential by statute, rule or order. Before a court record is ordered sealed, the court must determine if there is a reasonable alternative to sealing the record and must use the least restrictive means of accomplishing the purpose. Once a court record is sealed, it shall not be open to public inspection except by order of the court.

    Any case records not subject to disclosure except upon order of the court shall be kept in a separate section of the court files, accessed only by the court and the clerk's staff.


III. Right To Copy.

The right to public access shall generally include the right to make notes and to obtain copies at normal rates.


IV. Timing of Access.

The clerk of each court, in conjunction with the court's Administrative Justice, shall set reasonable administrative regulations governing the scheduling of access to records. All such regulations shall be designed to cause the least disruption to the clerk's office and shall be balanced against the need to provide timely access. The regulations may include the requirement of requesting access in writing, the scheduling of an appointment to inspect documents during off-peak hours, etc.


V. Supervision of Access.

It is the duty of the clerk to insure the integrity of each file. At no time shall any file be given to any person to be examined outside the area allocated for file review. The file review area shall be within full view of court personnel whenever possible. Supervision over file use shall be direct whenever possible. At no time shall any person be allowed to leave the court facility until the file has been returned to be refiled and court personnel has examined the completeness of the file if that is part of the court's procedure.

    Administrative regulations designed to insure the integrity of all files may be established by the clerks in conjunction with the Administrative Justice. Such regulations may include, but need not be limited to, requiring the individual seeking access to provide identification and sign for all records and allowing only one file at a time to be released to each individual seeking access.


VI. Large Scale Access.

Access to large numbers of records at any one time shall not be permitted. Individuals seeking such access shall be required to specifically identify by document number or case name the files to which they seek access and may be assessed a reasonable fee. Clerks are not required to allow access to more than ten files per day but may do so in the exercise of their discretion if it will not cause disruption to the clerk's primary function. No person shall be allowed direct access to the clerk's records or permitted to enter the inner office of the clerk's staff unless the court facility requires such entry and unless specific authorization for such entry is given by the clerk in conjunction with the presiding justice.


VII. Telephone Inquiries.

Telephone access to court records shall be allowed only at such times and under such conditions as the clerk may establish.


VIII. Denial of Access.

The clerk, after consultation with the presiding justice and Administrative Justice, may, for good cause shown, deny access to court records to any individual. Good cause shall include, but not be limited to, previous theft, destruction, defacement or tampering of records and refusal to comply with administrative regulations established in accordance with these guidelines.


IX. Access by Litigants.

Subject to paragraph II, and unless otherwise ordered by the Presiding Justice for good cause shown, parties to any litigation and their attorneys shall have complete access to their case records at all reasonable times and under the conditions set forth in these guidelines.