Open justice is best

Every Canadian has a stake in knowing what goes on in our courts.

It is a democratic right, enshrined in our Constitution and as old as the common law. And for good reason. Transparency prevents the state from prosecuting people unfairly. And it provides confidence that justice is being meted out in an impartial and systematic way.

So it is good that Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant is taking seriously the recommendations of an expert panel on justice and the media that would improve public access to the courts.

The panel wants to let the media use tape recorders in court to ensure accuracy. Records would be easier to obtain. And an electronic notification system would be set up for publication bans. These are all sensible changes.

Beyond that, the panel’s boldest recommendation is to relax the almost blanket prohibition on cameras in court.

It proposes that cameras be permitted in the Ontario Court of Appeal and Divisional Court, and for applications and motions in the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice, where no witnesses are testifying. Cameras would still be barred from criminal and civil trials. This, too, is a welcome proposal.

Some fear that cameras will encourage grandstanding, turning proceedings into circuses. But Supreme Court hearings have been televised for years without problems. Courts are public places, open to spectators. Why not to TV viewers?

Bryant sensibly agrees that “our justice system is ready for its close-up,” and will strike a committee to look at implementing the proposals. Let’s do so without delay.