Knight Commission Report: Law-Related Recommendations

Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age: The Report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy has been issued. Information about the commission is available here. The Twitter hashtag for discussion of the report is #knightcomm.

Surprisingly, the report does not appear to identify access to the laws in force in a jurisdiction as being among the information needs of communities in a democracy. (I would very much like to know the reason for this omission.) Nonetheless, the report makes several recommendations respecting law-related information (all emphasis below is added):

  • The report calls for “[r]equir[ing] government at all levels to operate transparently, facilitate easy and low-cost access to public records, and make civic and social data available in standardized formats that support the productive public use of such data”;
  • The report calls for “open courtrooms. In criminal and civil matters, any closing of proceedings or sealing of records should meet a high standard in terms of the public interests protected. Court proceedings, particularly at the appellate level, should be open to cameras“;
  • The report contends that “[o]pen-meetings laws should require
    that all public agencies conduct their deliberations and take their actions openly. The public should be able to witness and participate in the process of governing. If possible, governments should allow citizens to participate in hearings or other fact-gathering processes electronically“;
  • The report also recommends that “[a]t every level, legislative bodies should operate with genuine transparency. Members of the public should be able to track and comment upon successive versions of proposed statutes and ordinances, whether federal, state, or local. Except in genuine emergencies, legislators should not vote on proposals that have not had public vetting with a meaningful opportunity for public comment.”

These recommendations may be of interest to legal informatics researchers and developers working in such areas as free access to law, erulemaking, elegislation, and the development of digital law libraries.

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