Smile for the Camera: Is it Okay to Record Court Proceedings?
One of the foundational tenets of the Canadian justice system involves the “open court” principle.
This concept dictates that in Canada, all judicial proceedings should be administered and conducted in full view of, and with open access by, the public. This notion is entrenched in our laws to ensure that justice is meted out in an impartial and efficient way, with full accountability to both the participants and the country’s citizenry. It ensures public confidence through a sheer lack of secrecy, together with transparency allowing for both procedural fairness and substantive outcome to be scrutinized.
But it might be a little-known fact that – notwithstanding the open court principle – the Ontario justice system has strict policies around the use of electronic devices in courtrooms. These policies and prohibitions are contained in a Practice Direction that expressly covers a wide array of devices, including computers, personal electronic and digital devices, and smartphones of all types.
That Practice Direction sets out the protocols on how electronic devices may and may not be used in courtrooms by participants of all types: Lawyers, licensed paralegals, law students, law clerks, self-represented litigants, and the media. For that group – and unless the presiding judge order otherwise – electronic devices can be operated only “in silent mode and in a discreet and unobtrusive manner”. However, talking on smartphones in court is never permitted, and any use of a device cannot interfere with courtroom equipment, the proper administration of justice, or courtroom decorum.
For members of the public, however, the situation is quite different: There is a strict prohibition that states: “Members of the public are not permitted to use electronic devices in the courtroom unless the presiding judge orders otherwise”.
This is particularly resonant these days, when virtually everyone has a smartphone close at hand. And even the lower-end models contain high-tech cameras and audio-recording technology that can record and store of footage at the push of a button, and are small and easily-concealed if necessary.
In an upcoming Blog, we’ll cover the recent criminal arrest of four Toronto men who were charged with obstruction of justice after they posted their recordings of Ontario court proceedings to Instagram.