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Section 6: Public access to exhibits

6.1 Exhibits in criminal cases

Exhibits may take many forms. Examples include:

  • physical evidence (for example, guns, knives, clothing);
  • photographic/electronic evidence (for example, photos, videotapes, audiotapes, compact discs);
  • business documents (for example, phone records, bank records, business transaction records);
  • expert reports (for example, psychiatric reports, crime scene analyses, toxicologist reports);
  • forensic documents; and
  • intoxilyzer technician’s certificates of analysis.

Judicial consent is required to obtain access to court exhibits. Media and members of the public may fill out a simple request form that will be submitted to the presiding judicial official, or if that individual is unavailable, to the Local Administrative Justice. The judicial official will provide direction about whether access may be granted (including any terms and conditions of access) or whether a formal application, on notice to the parties, is required to balance access rights, privacy interests and the proper administration of justice.

Media and members of the public should direct their inquiries to court staff who will provide a copy of the request form and seek judicial direction about what is required in a particular case.

Returned Exhibits

An exhibit may be returned to the party who filed it upon the completion of the legal proceedings and after the relevant appeal period has expired. If an exhibit is no longer in the court’s possession, an individual seeking access to the record/item may make a request to the party directly. If the party denies access, a formal application may be brought to the court where the proceedings were heard.

Exhibit Lists

An exhibit list is prepared in every criminal case to record all exhibits entered into court. Exhibit lists are publicly accessible documents unless they contain information about matters that are sealed or were held in camera.

6.2 Exhibits in civil and family cases

6.2.1 Exhibits filed in a proceeding

If the exhibit was attached to an affidavit and filed with the court, it is a document filed in a proceeding and is publicly accessible under section 137 of the Courts of Justice Act (CJA) unless a statutory provision, common law rule or court order restricts access.

6.2.2 Exhibits referred to in an affidavit

If an exhibit is referred to in an affidavit as being produced and shown to the deponent, the party does not attach the exhibit to the affidavit. Instead, the party leaves the exhibit with the registrar/clerk for the court’s use. In this case, the exhibit is not “filed” with the court and is not accessible under s. 137 of the Courts of Justice Act.

6.2.3 Exhibits entered into evidence during trial

If the exhibit was entered into evidence in the course of a trial (meaning, marked, numbered and entered on a list by the registrar/clerk), the exhibit is not “filed” in the proceeding and is therefore not covered by s. 137. These exhibits are within the control of the court and are not publicly accessible, except with judicial consent.

Members of the public may fill out a simple request form that will be submitted to the presiding judicial official, or if that individual is unavailable, to the Local Administrative Justice. The judicial official will provide direction about whether access may be granted (including any terms and conditions of access) or whether a formal application, on notice to the parties, is required to balance access rights, privacy interests and the proper administration of justice.

Media and members of the public should direct their inquiries to court staff who will provide a copy of the request form and seek judicial direction about what is required in a particular case.

6.2.4 Copies of exhibits in exhibit books

Since exhibit books are documents filed with the court within the meaning of s. 137 of the Courts of Justice Act, copies of exhibits contained in an exhibit book and filed with the Court of Appeal are publicly accessible, unless a statutory provision, common law rule or court order restricts access.

Updated: June 02, 2022
Published: March 18, 2022