By Sarah Song, Access to Justice Division, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts
Earlier this month, the Illinois Supreme Court announced the adoption of a new policy that will require every state courthouse in Illinois to adopt a local rule or order addressing the use of portable electronic devices in courthouse buildings and courtrooms. The policy is available here.
The Court has taken this step in recognizing that portable electronic devices, such as cell phones and tablets, have become essential tools of today’s society. These minicomputers are essential for scheduling, completing mandatory electronic filing, presenting evidence like text messages, emails, and photos, and accessing resources and legal information. In many instances during the pandemic, courts have actually relied on the fact that patrons had access to their portable electronic devices in order to limit the number of people inside courtrooms and facilitate remote court proceedings.
Moreover, the Court’s policy makes access to justice more equitable. While many courthouses already allow cell phones for courtroom staff, lawyers, and jurors, self-represented litigants were often prohibited from bringing them into the building. This policy encourages courthouses to treat all who enter the building the same.
The policy acknowledges there may be some who use their device in an inappropriate manner without restrictions in place. To minimize that risk, the policy provides for what type of device usage is allowed and what is not. For instance, cell phones and other portable electronic devices may not be used in a courtroom without the judge’s permission other than lawyers, parties and witnesses using them to check calendars or present case-related information, and they must always be on silent. Additionally, devices should not be used for taking photographs or recordings and can never be used to communicate with jurors or witnesses.
Should a particular courthouse need to completely prohibit the use of cell phones and other similar devices in the building, the Chief Judge of the Circuit must issue an order or rule stating the reason for the full restriction. Any courthouses prohibiting devices must provide free storage for the barred equipment.
Courts across the state have embraced this new policy and adopted changes to meet the needs of their court users. For example, Champaign County reversed its 10-year ban on portable electronic devices effective January 18, 2022 by issuing a new Administrative Order. The 12th Circuit (Will County) has also adopted the Supreme Court policy.
Courts interested in reviewing its rules and orders on device usage may look to model rules and signs that will be posted in the coming weeks on the Supreme Court’s website here. If your court would like additional information or resources, please contact us at AccessToJustice@illinoiscourts.gov.