Columns

Let the cameras in!

Bert Samuels

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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The highest court in our judicial system — the Privy Council — now livestreams proceedings, so the entire world can see judges, lawyers, litigants, and court officials in real time. Further, it is not a stretch to argue that, in our world of liberal access to information, our constitutional guarantee to be tried “in public” includes the right of the public to see justice at work in real time.

Section 16 (3) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms provides: “All proceedings in every court and proceedings relating to the determination of the existence or the extent of a person's civil rights or obligations before any court or other authority, including the announcement of the decision of the court or authority, shall be held in public.”

The livestreaming of court proceedings in Jamaica do not collide with any provisions of our constitution. On the contrary, it is barring the camera from our courts that abrogates the right to the open justice enshrined in our charter. Of course, in protecting the right of the public to see justice at work, the charter also details the limited circumstances in which the right of the public to witness the proceedings may be prohibited. It sets out a number of instances in which the “interest of justice” would be prejudiced by open hearings. They include defence considerations, public safety, age of the person involved, and privacy of persons, such as in sexual and family issues, to name a few. In its wisdom, the constitution gives the judge the power to halt publicity where the situation justifies an in-camera hearing.

So, with the right of the public to have access to all court proceedings in Jamaica, and the protection of the parties — where it is warranted to have their trial in secret — well enshrined in our law, one wonders why the prohibition against the camera in court in 2018.

In fact, the prohibition, ridiculously, extends to the swearing-in of new lawyers, where their family and friends cannot take photographs of the newly admitted candidates in the corridors of the Supreme Court.

Our courtrooms are woefully short on space for the public to view proceedings. The Court of Appeal, our highest domestic court, has one bench from which the parties before the court and the public can witness proceedings. Why isn't the precedence set by the Privy Council, our highest court — and the law is almost entirely premised on precedence — required to be followed by inferior courts in Jamaica?

For good reason, prisoners cannot be photographed on their way to and from court, by law. Section 33 of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act prohibits photographing, or making a sketch or portrait of any prisoner. With these constitutional and statutory safeguards properly in place, they respectfully guarantee that our justice is open, scrutinised, and protected under the gaze of the public by way of video and livestreaming in the courtroom.

It will prevent judicial tyranny, it will make those who contemplate wrong reconsider the temptation, it will educate the young, and it will put the law and its enforcement on full display. The advantages far outweigh the drawbacks and, to borrow a constitutional saying, bringing court proceedings into our homes “is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. (Section 13(2))

Let the cameras in, and let it run with justice by its side.

Bert Samuels is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to the Observer or bert.samuels@gmail.com.

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