Ministry of the Attorney General Français
Ministry of the Attorney General

Court Services Division Policies and Procedures on Public Access to Court Files, Documents and Exhibits

Court Services Division

Ministry of the Attorney General

Revised April 2019

Please note:

The following guide is the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Court Services Division Policies and Procedures on Public Access to Court Files, Documents and Exhibits. The guide is being posted on the Ministry’s website in order to enhance public access to court proceedings, information and documents. This guide was first compiled and provided to Ministry court staff in January 2006 as part of the Ministry’s ongoing efforts to ensure that there is consistent application of these procedures across the province. Policies regarding access to court files, documents and exhibits are periodically reviewed and updated, subject to the direction of the judiciary.

The material provided here is the same as the material on public access to court documents provided to court staff. In some instances terms or language may be technical. A glossary of legal terms in this document is available on the Ministry website at ontario.ca/legal terms.

Table of Contents

  1. Section 1: General Principles and Policies for Public Access
    1. 1.1 Open and Accessible Court System
    2. 1.2 Judicial Direction
    3. 1.3 Timeframes for Public Access
    4. 1.4 Providing Information Over the Telephone
    5. 1.5 Procedures for Ensuring Public Access
    6. 1.6 Copies and Photographs of Documents
    7. 1.7 Use of Cameras, Recording and Other Electronic Devices in the Courtroom
  2. Section 2: Public Access to Criminal Court Files and Documents
    1. 2.1 General Principle of Public Accessibility
    2. 2.2 Criminal Court Files and Documents with Restricted Access
      1. 2.2.1 Documents in Youth Criminal Justice Act Proceedings
      2. 2.2.2 Pre-Enquête Documents and Recordings
      3. 2.2.3 Documents Relating to a Peace Bond Application
      4. 2.2.4. Search Warrants (s. 487 of the Criminal Code)
      5. 2.2.5. Arrest Warrants (Warrants in the First Instance and Bench Warrants)
      6. 2.2.6 Production Orders
      7. 2.2.7 Court Files and Documents under Criminal Code Publication Bans
      8. 2.2.8. In Camera / Publicly-Excluded Proceedings
      9. 2.2.9 Court Files and Documents in Section 276(2), Section 278.2, Section 278.92(2), and O’Connor Applications
      10. 2.2.10 Identifying Information about Witnesses
      11. 2.2.11 Mental Health Assessments
      12. 2.2.12 Sealed Files and Documents
      13. 2.2.13 Cannabis Act Ticketable Offence Proceedings
      14. 2.2.14 Documents Relating to Absolute and Conditional Discharges
      15. 2.2.15 Documents Relating to Record Suspensions and Expungements
    3. 2.3 Index Books
    4. 2.4 Dockets and Case Event Lists
      1. 2.4.1 Pre-Court Docket and Case Event List
      2. 2.4.2. Post-Court Docket and Case Event List
    5. 2.5 Provincial Offences Act Court Documents
    6. 2.6 Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act, 2017 Court Documents
      1. 2.6.1 Court Files and Documents under Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act, 2017 Publication Bans
    7. 2.7 Criminal Court Documents
  3. Section 3: Public Access to Civil Court Files and Documents
    1. 3.1 Courts of Justice Act Provisions for Public Access
    2. 3.2 Statutory Restrictions to Public Access
      1. 3.2.1 Documents Regarding Parental Responsibility Act Matters
    3. 3.3 Files and Documents Under Publication Bans
    4. 3.4 Sealed Files and Documents
    5. 3.5 Daily Filing List Report
    6. 3.6 Case Event Lists and Post-Court Dockets
    7. 3.7 Other Documents Related to Civil Proceedings
  4. Section 4: Public Access to Family Court Files
    1. 4.1 Courts of Justice Act Provisions for Public Access
    2. 4.2 Statutory Restrictions to Public Access
      1. 4.2.1 Child Protection Cases
      2. 4.2.2 Secure Treatment Cases
      3. 4.2.3 Adoption Cases and Openness Orders
      4. 4.2.4 Proceedings under the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996
    3. 4.3 Files and Documents Under Publication Bans
    4. 4.4 Sealed Files and Documents
    5. 4.5 Index Books
    6. 4.6 Case Event Lists and Post-Court Dockets
    7. 4.7 Other Documents Related to Family Cases
  5. Section 5: Public Access to Enforcement Files
    1. 5.1 Documents in the Enforcement File Covered by Section 137 of the Courts of Justice Act
    2. 5.2 Other Documents in the Enforcement File
  6. Section 6: Public Access to Exhibits
    1. 6.1 Exhibits in Criminal Cases
    2. 6.2 Exhibits in Civil and Family Cases
      1. 6.2.1 Exhibits Filed in a Proceeding
      2. 6.2.2 Exhibits Referred to in an Affidavit
      3. 6.2.3 Exhibits Entered into Evidence During Trial
      4. 6.2.4 Copies of Exhibits in Exhibit Books
  7. Section 7: Fees for Public Access to Court Documents
    1. 7.1 Fees to Access Criminal Court Documents
      1. 7.1.1 Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of Justice
    2. 7.2 Fees to Access Civil and Family Court Documents and Enforcement Documents
      1. 7.2.1 Ontario Court of Justice
      2. 7.2.2 Superior Court of Justice and Court of Appeal for Ontario
    3. 7.3 Copy Fees
      1. 7.3.1 Fees for Copies of Endorsements
    4. 7.4 Fee Waiver

Section 1: General Principles and Policies for Public Access

1.1  Open and Accessible Court System

Ontario’s court system is based on the fundamental principles of openness and accessibility. In general, most court documents are publicly accessible, unless a statutory provision, common law rule or court order restricts access.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that the courts have a supervisory and protecting power over their records, and as a result, determine rules for public access. The Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General is responsible for the care and maintenance of court files and documents, with the exception of court files and documents in Provincial Offences courts, which are administered by municipal partners under a transfer agreement. The Court Services Division makes policies regarding the care and maintenance of court files and documents, in accordance with applicable law, and subject to judicial direction.

1.2  Judicial Direction

Each court has jurisdiction over its own records, and all policies respecting access to court documents, files and exhibits are subject to judicial direction. However, legislation and regulations (including rules of practice), existing jurisprudence, and consultation with the judiciary have led to the result that, except in the specific circumstances outlined in this guide, many documents are publicly accessible. Judicial consent is required to obtain access to court exhibits (see Section 6).

1.3  Timeframes for Public Access

Timeliness is essential to ensure access to court files and documents. The ability of court staff to facilitate timely access can be affected by various factors. Court Services Division Record Retention Schedules outline the requirements for storing files on-site or off-site. Retention schedules also outline when records can be destroyed or stored by the Archives of Ontario. For example, post court dockets may be destroyed after 3 years.

Where on-site storage is limited, some files may be transferred off site sooner than set out in the Retention Schedules. By necessity, the time required for access to files and documents that are stored off site will be longer than for files and documents stored at the courthouse.

In addition, court staff must prioritize their responsibilities to ensure:

Given these priorities, court staff must facilitate access to court files and documents as quickly and efficiently as possible.

1.4  Providing Information Over the Telephone

Information from court records that would be accessible to the public at no charge is available over the telephone. Many court records in the Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of

Justice are accessible at no charge. See section 7 for information about fees to access documents.

1.5  Procedures for Ensuring Public Access

Because a court file may contain documents that are not publicly accessible, court staff must ensure that only publicly accessible documents are provided to members of the public for inspection.

In civil and family matters, Court Services Division requires the use of a correspondence pocket in court files. Documents for which public access is restricted must be filed in the

correspondence pocket. Court staff must remove the correspondence pocket from the file before providing the file to a member of the public for inspection. For additional information, please refer to section 3.7 on Other Documents Related to Civil Proceedings.

1.6  Copies and Photographs of Documents

Court staff can provide a copy of any document in the court file if:

Members of the public can make a copy of any documentation in the court file using their own camera or other electronic device at no charge if they have the right to see the document. The use of photography is limited to the documentation in the court file and must be conducted in the administration area. Please refer to section 1.7 for further explanation about the use of cameras and recording devices.

Members of the public may have a copy of a digital recording of a court hearing if:

1.7  Use of Cameras, Recording and Other Electronic Devices in the Courtroom

No cameras (including cell phone cameras) or video recording devices may be used in the courtroom without the approval of the presiding judicial official (s. 136 of the Courts of Justice Act). Photographing of any person in attendance at the courthouse is also prohibited.

For further information about the use of electronic communication devices in court proceedings, please see the Ontario Court of Justice website at http://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/legal-professionals/practice-directions/electronic-devices/ and the Superior Court of Justice website at http://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/practice/practice-directions/provincial/#D_Electronic_Devices_in_the_Courtroom.

Section 2: Public Access to Criminal Court Files and Documents

2.1  General Principle of Public Accessibility

In general, once process is issued (i.e., an Information is sworn and an arrest is made or a summons is served), criminal court files and documents are publicly accessible, unless legislation, a common law rule or a court order restricts access.

2.2  Criminal Court Files and Documents with Restricted Access

Exceptions to this general principle of public accessibility are outlined below:

2.2.1 Documents in Youth Criminal Justice Act Proceedings

General Rule:

Court files and documents of Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) proceedings or other proceedings that make reference to YCJA information (e.g., Parental Responsibility Act Small Claims Court actions (section 3.2.1), child protection cases (section 4.2.1), or Mental Health Act (MHA) proceedings (section 2.2.11)) are not accessible to the public, unless the young person receives an adult sentence and:

YCJA records are accessible to persons listed in s.119 of the YCJA, or if a court order is obtained pursuant to s.119(1)(s) of the YCJA.

Exception for information about courtroom location and future court dates:

Daily court lists providing the courtroom location for YCJA matters are available to the public. These lists include the initials of a young person and the charges they are facing.

Court staff will not release the young person’s name in a YCJA matter.

Future court dates in YCJA matters are available to the public if sufficient information is provided to allow court staff to access the information in a reasonable amount of time. The following are examples of information that may be necessary to allow court staff to locate the information:

If an exclusion or sealing order has been made in the YCJA matter, disclosure of next court date information is not permitted.

2.2.2 Pre-Enquête Documents and Recordings

Intake is presided over by a justice of the peace and is a forum for the police and individuals to bring Informations before a justice of the peace in order to lay criminal charges.

The justice of the peace may conduct a pre-enquête hearing to determine whether legal process should issue (i.e., whether an Information is sworn and then whether to issue process by way of a summons or warrant). Pre-enquête hearings are not open to the public.

If Process Is Issued

For both private and Crown prosecutions, if process is issued, the documents of the pre- enquête hearing become publicly accessible once the defendant has been arrested or the summons has been served, unless there are legislative restrictions to access (e.g., YCJA) or a court order restricts access.

If Process Is Not Issued

If process is not issued, the documents and tapes of the pre-enquête hearing are not publicly accessible.

2.2.3 Documents Relating to a Peace Bond Application

An individual or peace officer may make an application to the court for a peace bond to request that a person be ordered to keep the peace. To begin the application, the complainant presents an Information at an initial interview with a justice of the peace.

If the justice of the peace issues process, any documents relating to the application are accessible to the public once the defendant has been served with the summons (or in rare circumstances, has been arrested), unless otherwise ordered by the court. If the justice of the peace refuses to issue process, there is no public access to the documents.

2.2.4. Search Warrants (s. 487 of the Criminal Code)

A search warrant is a tool that permits investigators to search specified locations (such as a residence, office, or vehicle) and seize particular items. Warrants are not necessarily tied to a specific individual.

Specialized search warrants also exist for the seizure of bodily substances for DNA analysis, controlled drugs and substances, counterfeit money, hate propaganda, lumber or lumbering equipment, obscene material, precious metals and proceeds of crime.

General warrants permit peace officers to use devices or investigative techniques described in the warrant if a search and/or seizure without it would violate section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure).

DNA warrants are publicly accessible if the warrant has not been sealed by court order.

Search warrants and general warrants, including those under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, are publicly accessible, if:

Court staff do not have the authority to provide any information about the search warrant or related documents (including confirming the existence of an application for a search warrant) if:

This is consistent with rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada and ensures that ongoing investigations are not compromised and that privacy rights are respected.

If the individual seeking access believes that a search warrant has been executed, but there is no information publicly accessible at the court counter, they may wish to obtain further details from the police or investigating service.

Requesting Access to Search Warrants

Individuals seeking access to search warrants must provide enough information for court staff to identify the records sought. This most commonly includes the location (e.g. address) searched and/or the date the warrant was executed and may also include, when known, the name of the person (often a police officer) or agency who sought the warrant, the name of the judicial official who approved the warrant and/or the date the search warrant was issued.

Search warrants are filed by location to be searched and date of search. If an individual does not know the address and/or date of search, court staff will attempt to assist the requester, however sufficient information to allow court staff to identify the requested warrant is necessary. Search warrants are not filed by name of an individual subsequently charged as a result of an investigation.

Tracking Warrants and Number Recorder Warrants (s. 492.1 and s. 492.2 of the Criminal Code)

Staff must seek judicial direction when a third party requests access to tracking warrants issued under section 492.1 and number recorder warrants issued under section 492.2 of the Criminal Code.

Sealed Warrants

Under subsection 487.3(1) of the Criminal Code, the presiding judicial official may, upon application, make an order prohibiting access to and disclosure of documents related to any warrant. This is referred to as a sealing order. Access to sealed warrants is only permitted if the sealing order provides exceptions for specific persons or by further order of the court.

A sealing order typically provides the date the file was sealed and the name of the judicial official who sealed the documents, but it does not disclose information about the content of the warrant. Assuming that is the case, the sealing order is accessible unless otherwise ordered by a judicial official. However, if the sealing order contains confidential information that is under seal, judicial permission is required for access.

Given the confidential nature of sealed records and the limited information available to court staff where a warrant is sealed (e.g., the location, address, or subject searched is often itself confidential), staff may not always be able to identify the warrants sought.

Persons seeking access to the sealed materials may bring an application to the judicial official who made the order, or to a judge of the court where any proceedings arising out of the investigation may be held.

2.2.5. Arrest Warrants (Warrants in the First Instance and Bench Warrants)

Warrants of arrest (also known as “Warrants in the First Instance”) may or may not be filed with the court. Practices for filing warrants of arrest vary depending on the police service. If a warrant of arrest or copy of a warrant of arrest is in the court file, it is only publicly accessible after the accused has been arrested or has received a summons, provided no other public access restrictions apply (e.g., YCJA).

Bench warrants may also be issued and executed anywhere in Canada against a person who does not appear in court or remain in attendance for his or her court appearance. Information about these warrants is publicly accessible, provided no other public access restrictions apply (e.g., YCJA).

2.2.6 Production Orders

A production order is made by a judge or justice of the peace and is similar to a search warrant. When a production order is made, the person in possession of the information identified in the order must produce it upon request to the law enforcement agency. There are five different types of production orders:

Information about an application for a production order, the documents or information provided is publicly accessible if:

2.2.7 Court Files and Documents under Criminal Code Publication Bans

When a publication ban is imposed by the court (e.g., s. 486.4 related to sexual offences or s. 517 related to judicial interim release or bail hearings) or is automatically provided for (e.g., s. 542 related to preliminary hearings), the court file and documents are still accessible to the public. Staff will notify the recipient that the file or document is under a publication ban and will warn him or her that publication, broadcasting or transmitting in any way the information governed by the publication ban could be a violation of law.

2.2.8. In Camera / Publicly-Excluded Proceedings

Under various sections of the Criminal Code[1], the public may be excluded in whole or in part from a court proceeding. These proceedings are known as in camera or publicly excluded proceedings. If the public is excluded from a court proceeding, the public cannot access the records relating to that portion of the proceeding, except by court order.

2.2.9 Court Files and Documents in Section 276(2), Section 278.2, Section 278.92(2), and O’Connor Applications

Applications to: