The Judicial Conference of the United States on Tuesday approved a change to its broadcast policy that expands the public’s access to civil and bankruptcy proceedings over the Judiciary’s longstanding pre-COVID policy, which prohibited all remote public access to federal court proceedings.
The revised policy, adopted at the Conference’s biennial meeting, will permit judges presiding over civil and bankruptcy cases to provide the public live audio access to non-trial proceedings that do not involve witness testimony.
The new policy will go into effect on Sept. 22, 2023, immediately after the expiration of the temporary exception that was put into place by the Judiciary when access to courthouses was restricted for health and safety reasons. The exception allowed judges to permit remote audio access to any civil or bankruptcy proceeding.
The Conference adopted the revised policy on the recommendation of its Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM), with the endorsement of the Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System and the Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System.
The CACM Committee is exploring possible ways to further expand remote public access to civil and bankruptcy proceedings and examining concerns about the potential impact on proceedings involving witness testimony. Specific issues the Committee is studying include whether remote public access to proceedings involving witness testimony could increase the potential for witness intimidation or complicate witness sequestration – vital considerations in ensuring trial proceedings are fair to all parties; and whether the potential for live remote streaming of witness testimony may impact the truth-finding mission of the courts – for example, whether it would alter witness testimony if the proceeding were instantly available to individuals who cannot be seen in the courtroom.
The change approved Tuesday does not extend to criminal proceedings. Temporary permission to conduct some criminal proceedings by videoconference or teleconference, which had been granted under the 2020 CARES Act, ended on May 10, 2023. Courts have already discontinued use of virtual criminal proceedings, except as otherwise authorized. The revision also does not affect a judge’s ability to allow parties and counsel to appear remotely by teleconference and videoconference.
The Conference also approved comprehensive style amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. The amendments do not change the substance of the bankruptcy rules. However, the restyled rules use language that is more consistent and easier to understand, based on several years of work by the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules, as well as input from the public. This is the fifth and final set of rules to be comprehensively amended to update the style, culminating a project that began almost 30 years ago.
The 26-member Judicial Conference is the policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute, the Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer and its members are the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade.
The Conference convenes twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system.
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