How about just making public records available to the public?

There was a crowd at the Registro Nacional in Zapote Monday. Documents that are supposed to be available online are not because the Registro shut down its system.

The Registro did so because the Sala IV constitutional court forbade it from charging for documents while an appeal is pending. A lawyer objects to paying for the online documents.

There is a lot of sense behind this appeal, although the lawyer involved probably has mostly money on his mind.

Public documents should be available freely to the public. That is a basic foundation of a democracy. Costa Rica has an elaborate system of documentation, notaries and certifications, all designed to make lawyers money.

Someone who runs a company is powerless unless he or she holds a current personaría juridica. This document, which may be good for 15 days or 30 days, depending on the source, assures anyone in business that the individual named in the document has the right to act for the company.

Never mind that this information should be available on the Internet. Costa Rica custom usually requires a lawyer with notary credentials to draw up the document to guarantee it is correct. And where does the information originate? In a lawyer’s section of the Registro Web site. It’s copy-and-paste time that generates 10,000 colons or about $20 for the lawyer.

For awhile, a company manager simply had to purchase a copy online from the Registro for nearly 3,000 colons, about $6. This is the system that has been frozen. The Registro server allowed interested parties to double check the validity of the
document by just entering a few numbers.

We wonder why the entire data base is just not made public so that inquiring minds can find out who has the power to act for a company simply by checking the Registro data base. No paper documents. No lawyers. No notaries.

We say the same about court cases. Most are private affairs from which the public is excluded. When someone is arrested, the bulk of the information is strained through judicial public relations professionals. Many arrests simply are not reported. Reporters do not have the right to look at case files in the courts. That right is reserved for lawyers.

Consequently, many people are labeled crooks in the press and are later released. There is one case of a man held out as a crook in a press conference by high judicial officials. He later was acquitted. There was no press conference then. He can only salvage his reputation by calling on newspapers to take the initiative and report his acquittal.

The Internet lives forever, and so do news stories. The system would be far more equitable here if reporters had more access to preliminary court hearings and case filings. But not just reporters. Any citizen should be able to leaf through court files and search court documents online.

Article 30 of the Costa Rican Constitution seems to establish this right. But in practice, that’s just so much smoke.

Of course, prosecutors, crooks and others would prefer that all be handled in the dark.

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