Note: This page covers information specific to Illinois. For general information concerning access to and use of court records see the Access to Courts and Court Records section of this guide.
You have a right to inspect and copy most records and documents filed in Illinois courts. However, your right of access is not absolute, and a court may limit access to court records under certain circumstances. If you are interested in obtaining court records, you should go to the courthouse where the case is taking place and request the records in writing from the clerk of the court (there will usually be a request form). State websites provide locations and phone numbers for the Illinois Circuit Courts, Appellate Courts, and Supreme Court. For more information, please consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's state-by-state guide to access to court records and proceedings.
Illinois courts recognize both a common law and a First Amendment right of access to court records, and the state legislature enacted a statute making all records filed with the clerk of a Circuit Court presumptively open to the public. See 705 Ill. Comp. Stat. 105/16. As a general matter, you may access docket information, the pleadings and motions of the parties to a lawsuit, decisions and orders of the court, evidence introduced in court by either side, and transcripts of hearings. On the other hand, you generally cannot access juvenile court records. In addition, you do not have a right to access documents and materials exchanged between parties but never filed with the court. For instance, the parties to a case might enter into a settlement agreement but not submit the agreement to the court. In that case, you could not gain access to the settlement agreement.
A party to a lawsuit or criminal case may ask a court to seal otherwise public court records for a variety of reasons, including to protect their private information and trade secrets. The party seeking closure of court records must give a compelling reason, and the court must support closure with specific factual findings demonstrating why it is justified and craft its order as narrowly as possible. In the past, courts have sealed documents relating to medical and personal financial information. Mere potential for embarrassment is not sufficient.
A court must issue an order to seal documents. If you are denied access to court records, ask the clerk for the order sealing the documents. If such an order exists, you may consider moving to intervene in the case to challenge the court's decision. If you wish to challenge an order sealing court records, you should get legal assistance to determine how best to proceed.