Last week, I blogged about the fact that Ontario’s court schedules are finally online for viewing by the public. It is a small step; hopefully many more are to come.
Blogger and lawyer Addison Cameron-Huff brought to my attention the fact that the schedule website is protected by a CAPTCHA. The purpose of CAPTCHAs is to prevent automated access by search engines like Google and other similar webcrawlers.
I am not sure yet what to think about this. Cameron-Huff suggests it is a terrible development because the information should be made freely accessible to anyone who wants to use it. The information is in the public domain. Courts should not restrict access to it.
A similar debate happened in the U.S. over its public court document system called pacer.gov (I blogged about pacer.gov in an earlier post). One activist downloaded millions of documents from the site to make them available to the general public before he was stopped from doing so. One university project called RECAP has as its goal the objective of building a free alternative to the PACER system (PACER charges a per page fee for access).
What do you think? At present, only court schedules are available online but hopefully more will follow – filed statements of claims, statements of defences, motion records and factums. Should access to court documents be restricted, or should it be freely accessible by web crawlers like the Google Scholar engine?