EDITORIAL: At long last – an update about electronic records

This week the public finally has been made privy to some basic details about the long-promised launch of digital court records.

As the Compass reported on Wednesday, documents show the online platform could be up and running in April, the culmination of a project that has been ongoing for more than two years.

That is good news for proponents of an open and efficient court system – which should be all of us. By law and as a matter of democratic principles, court documents, with few exceptions, ought to be easily accessed by an interested public. The courts are a powerful public institution that simply must operate in the clear light of day.

In fact, it was concerns over access to court records that brought the initiative into public view in the first place, after a court clampdown on records made international headlines in the spring of 2017. That unwanted attention led to a meeting of the Grand Court Rules Committee the following June, after which court administrator Suzanne Bothwell assured the public that efforts were “currently under way to make available online, on the Judicial Website, free of cost, the inspection of all public registers, including unreported judgments.”

As time passed, updates were few and far between. Each time a Compass reporter inquired about the project and its progress, he or she was met with vague replies.

In fact, it was not until the Compass filed a request for documents under the Freedom of Information law that the most basic details emerged – as we reported on Wednesday. None was particularly controversial; nor could they have been difficult to compile.

We have learned that judicial administrators had enlisted the services of a Canadian firm in 2016 to convert Cayman’s analog court records to digital. Going forward, the software will allow for digital record-keeping of cases and warrants, and will enable electronic payments, online calendars and docket scheduling, as well as details about training and costs for implementation and maintenance.

There is nothing controversial, proprietary or otherwise confidential about Cayman’s movement to digital court records – something countless court systems have done around the world over the past two decades. Not only will online court records make it easier for the public and interested parties to keep track of court actions, it will also enable a host of statistical analyses that have, to date, been difficult if not impossible to compute.

It is more than a bit ironic that the public has had such a difficult time obtaining meaningful updates about such a significant project that was intended, in large part, to bolster transparency.

As this editorial board has written, there appears to be a misapprehension in some corners of government that the Freedom of Information Law is prescriptive – that it lays out the terms and conditions for providing the public with public information. In fact, it is the opposite: Absent a compelling justification for privacy, the public has a right to know how government is carrying out our work. A truly transparent government would bombard its citizens with public information – regardless of whether they asked.

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  1. Here’s another “update”: 41% of the first 22 cases filed at the Financial Services Division of the Grand Court this year are still sealed. Presumably, most or all of these are winding-up petitions, which would again demonstrate a disturbing lack of concern for clients, investors, and vendors of Cayman-domiciled companies, including those listed on stock exchanges in the U.S.

    Compare the above fact with the Court’s claims to the Compass last year that the FSD sealing rate was only in the region of 3% to 4% and that “most winding up petitions are usually made public within 72 hours of their filing”.

    David Marchant