Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Judicial Council recommends rules on evidence, privacy

The Virginia Judicial Council sent to the Supreme Court of Virginia today a formal set of Rules of Evidence and a proposed Part Nine to the Supreme Court’s rules that would regulate access to private information in court records.

The proposed Rules of Evidence are the result of more than 20 years of off and on effort to develop a formal evidence code for Virginia. Massachusetts and Virginia are the only two states without such a code.

The proposed rules generally adopt the format of the Federal Rules of Evidence adopted in the mid-1970s, but most of the language of the rules, and the comments proposed for adoption with them, are from Virginia case law.

Kent Sinclair, the University of Virginia law professor who is chairman of the council’s advisory committee on rules, said the law of evidence in Virginia is buried in more than 1,000 published cases and scattered over a dozen sections of the Virginia Code.

The proposed Part Nine of the Rules of Court is likewise largely a synthesis of existing case and statutory law, according to Leslie M. Alden, the Fairfax Circuit Judge chaired the special committee appointed by Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr.

The rules start from the premise that “[court] cases are, as a general proposition, public.” However, much of their language focuses on exceptions to the general proposition and to concerns raised by the increasing availability of court records, and the often private information in them, over the Internet.

Hassell told the council that he expects the court to take some time before acting on the proposed rules

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