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As mobile devices and social media sites such as Twitter find their way into courtrooms across Canada, allowing tweeting or texting in court could be cost prohibitive for the justice system and should not be a priority, says Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia.
A recent decision in B.C. will allow lawyers and accredited members of the media to text during trials at the Supreme and provincial courts, while members of the public will be permitted to do so from the galleries of the B.C. Court of Appeal. Read CTV story
“The need for immediate news coverage in sensational criminal cases seems natural. For a reporter to be able to immediately text or email the jury verdict as it happens, is for news organizations the ultimate in news breaking stories,” says Gadhia.
“The public may get that verdict immediately, but waiting a few extra minutes for the reporter to step outside and make the call won’t make or break the public’s perception of what happened,” she adds.
Essentially, says Gadhia, courts have enough to worry about without this added responsibility. “Publication bans are routinely in place and breaching them could become a regular problem which would require monitoring and or informing the public via a notice for each and every trial,” she says.
“The staff that would have to be in place to watch that only accredited media or lawyers are using their phones would be more cost prohibitive,” she adds.
The more crucial issue, says Gadhia is the recording of evidence while courtroom proceedings are going on.
“The ability for a lawyer to be able to record testimony is one I have always advocated, since having a verbatim account of the evidence in the middle of the proceedings helps with the cross examination of a witness. This, however, has been opposed by the court reporters who supplement their income with transcript requests,” she adds.
Ultimately, if smart phones are allowed into courtrooms, says Gadhia, then their purpose must be stated clearly. But tweeting and texting, she says, do not seem to be a necessity for public disclosure.
“The public should respect the process as it happens, with the appropriate fail safes in place. This is a comical extension of a society driven by social media. Let the reporters step outside,” she adds.
B.C. joins Alberta and Nova Scotia in the move.
In Ontario, the defence team of former Canadian Forces colonel Russell Williams complained about social media after his murder trial. Since a decision by Justice Robert Maranger in late 2011, live social media inside courtrooms in Ontario has been off limits, but individual judges can allow it. Section 136 of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act doesn’t specifically address social media.