Supreme Court upholds courthouse camera restrictions

A Supreme Court of Canada decision January 28 upheld the right of judges to limit the use of cameras and recording equipment in courthouses.

The court actually ruled in two cases. In Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Attorney General of Quebec, it upheld Quebec court rules introduced in 2004, which restrict the use of cameras to designated spots within the courthouse, and prevent the media from broadcasting official proceedings.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) expressed disappointment with the decision. “We believe this decision is a setback to the media’s ability to gather news about what takes place in the courts,” said CJFE President Arnold Amber. “Courts are public institutions and operate in Canada on the open court principle – but this ruling makes it more difficult for the public to find out what goes on inside those public institutions.”

According to a report in The Globe and Mail, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the rules adopted in Montreal’s main courthouse breached the media’s right to free expression, but said the measures were necessary to stop reporters from moving about in an unruly pack and pouncing on witnesses and lawyers.

However, “any decision that restricts the right of the media to report and collect information with regards to judicial proceedings is very disappointing,” said Peter Jacobsen, a lawyer and member of CJFE’s board. “The view of the Supreme Court of Canada that journalist activities in the courthouse could somehow impinge on the judicial process seems to contradict the approach we take in public inquiries where witnesses are often called to testify in difficult situations as well.”

The Supreme Court also ruled in a related but separate case, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. vs. Attorney General of Canada, upholding a lower court ruling banning the broadcast of a video recording of a statement an accused had made to police before being charged. The decision made a distinction between statements made to police and those made in court, noted a report in the National Post.