Judges are free to safeguard the serenity of courthouses by tightly restricting where journalists can roam in pursuit of interviews and photographs, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday morning.
While rules adopted in Montreal's main downtown courthouse breached the press's constitutional right to free expression, the measures were necessary to stop reporters from moving about in an unruly pack and pouncing on witnesses and lawyers, the court said.
The Supreme Court also ruled that journalists cannot obtain recordings of live testimony and transmit it as part of their reports. It said that the court process requires that audio testimony be recorded in order to preserve evidence, but that does not give journalists the right to use it for their own purposes.
Writing for a 9-0 majority, Madam Justice Marie Deschamps said that the measures were carefully drafted by Montreal judges in such a way as to protect witnesses and courthouse decorum while minimizing the impact on press freedoms.
“Although the broadcasting of official audio recordings would add value to media reports and make them more interesting, the prohibition against broadcasting them does not adversely affect the ability of journalists to describe, analyse or comment rigorously on what takes place in the courts,” Judge Deschamps said.
“The recordings are, first and foremost, a means of keeping a record of such proceedings and conserving evidence, and journalists should not use them in a way that would distort that objective. To broadcast them in the name of freedom of the press would undermine the integrity of the judicial process, which the open court principle is supposed to guarantee.”
Ruling on a companion case, the court said trial judges must put considerable weight on freedom of expression when the media outlets ask to broadcast court exhibits such as recorded police statements.
The context for its decision was the trial of a Montreal man, Stephan Dufour, for aiding suicide. At Mr. Dufour's trial, the presiding judge had permitted the press to view his police statement, but the judge prohibited them from broadcasting it.
Mr. Dufour, supported by Quebec's attorney-general, asked for the prohibition largely on the basis that, since Mr. Dufour is developmentally disabled, it could prove particularly harmful to him.
Writing for a unanimous court on Friday, Judge Deschamps upheld the right of a trial judge to weigh the potential consequences for witnesses, the justice system and freedom of the press before issuing a ruling on the broadcasting of an exhibit.
However, she emphasized that this weighing process begins with a presumption that the freedom to publish and broadcast is an important Charter right that cannot easily be displaced.
At the same time, Judge Deschamps mused that even a statement given well before a trial could be negatively impacted by the possibility that it may one day become a major media story.
“If the person who makes the statement knows that it could end up as the lead story on the local or national television news, this could cause him or her to think carefully before deciding whether to make it,” Judge Deschamps said.
“Thus, the possibility that the statement will be broadcast could have a negative effect on the search for the truth, but it could also have a salutary effect on the voluntariness of the statement and, consequently, on the administration of justice.”
The decorum ruling will give guidance to judges across the country, most of whom have adopted variations on the Montreal courthouse rules in order to create specific areas where the press are and aren't permitted to do interviews and use electronic equipment. As is the case in Montreal, most courts require journalists to request that lawyers and witnesses leave the courthouse in order to be interviewed in foyers or on courthouse steps.
The Supreme Court said the Montreal judiciary felt compelled to create rules after the numbers of reporters and camera operators proliferated, and the group became more and more aggressive in their pursuit of interviews and camera footage.
“As a result of the way journalists went about their work, crowds would form in front of courtroom doors, it would be difficult to get through doorways and there would be crushes, races down hallways and jostling,” it said. “The evidence also shows that media representatives did not always comply with special security measures implemented by courthouse administrators.”
Once the measures had been implemented, the court said, peace and harmony were quickly restored to the corridors of the courthouse.
“The evidence shows that witnesses, parties, members of the public and lawyers can now move about freely near courtrooms without fear of being pursued by the media,” Judge Deschamps said. “Lawyers can hold discussions with their witnesses and with counsel for the opposing party in hallways adjacent to courtrooms without being disturbed.
“Those who adopted the impugned measures took the vulnerability of participants in the judicial process into consideration and made sure that when such people consent to co-operate with the media, they do so as freely and calmly as possible. The controls on journalistic activities thus facilitate truth finding by not adding to the stress on witnesses.”
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
The Judiciary are treating us like Mushrooms.
Court Rooms are supposedly public, while its legal to visit and listen, if you can, in the court room, our Judiciary attempt to tell us, that listening and or watching the same OUTSIDE the court is somehow " a danger to witnesses".
Our judiciary operate like a Criminal Cartel, they don't want anyone watching, don't want anyone listening, or having access to the court documents so they can as much as possible operate in secret without anyone watching them, in about the same way as a burglar dresses in black or wears a hoodie.
The claim that "the measures were carefully drafted" "to protect witnesses and court room decorum" is a joke.
Then more Gobles like statements that defy belief;
"The prohibition does not affect the ability of journalists to describe , analyse or comment rigorously on what takes place in the courts".
Often its not what it said but how it is said. Judges for example, are experts at making remarks with a very different intonation from what a reader gains from a reading of transcripts.
Justice Deschamps must think the entire population other than her fellow members of the legal cartel are stupid and will swallow this self-serving propaganda designed for no genuine purpose but to protect the judiciary and the courts from the Ill-repute that they deserve.
This was a Decision, for the Judiciary by the Judiciary to allow themselves
to operate with impunity and immunity and to hide their dirty deeds from the
public to prevent the judiciary from having any accountability.
Its an insult to the principle of fundamental justice.
Open airing of court room audio and video is essential to the notion of a society that has a rule of law, free and open courts, and impartial objective tribunals.
Our judiciary are riddled with those with extreme personality disorders, extreme selfishness and a propensity to flagrantly abuse their judicial powers. Restrictions of court room information are just part of what they call, "court room control", to protect themselves from their own dirty , very dirty habitual obstruction of justice.
Why we need live court room Feeds
Our judiciary operate like a criminal cartel.
Their court rooms are their turf.
Just as criminals would smash video cameras on their turf.
Bad corrupt judges don't want to monitored.
Good judges could not give a dam or would welcome it but would not say so for fear of rocking the Judicial Cartel's boat.
This decision just confirms the ability and the propensity of the judiciary to abuse the principle of fundamental justice in order to protect their own underbelly.
Most of the time, Reporters are extremely professional. Montreal sounds like
some of the press stepped outside the bounds of expected behaviour and in that
regard the Supreme Court Decision was required.
What is buried in this decision is the issue of Court Room recordings. The courts want to maintain total control.
To do that then they should arrange for all courts to have audio and video on on line and end the present highly secretive courts.
Quebec courts unlike Ontario, restrict access to the courts , family court for example does not allow any observers for improper reasons to ensure that no one can see their dirty deeds.