A week ago we learned that Ontario’s Attorney General is willing to consider putting video cameras in Ontario’s courtrooms, and is:
… prepared to speak with the judiciary about their interest in having the discussion at this point in time, where we would go, and canvass the views of other participants in the justice system.
This statement — hardly a rousing endorsement of video access — came as a result of his interview with Canadian Press reporter Allison Jones, who, through a freedom of information request, had obtained a copy of an evaluation done nearly three years previously of the brief use of video cameras in Ontario’s Court of Appeal in 2007. (Slaw reported on the experiment at the time and has made a couple of inquiries since then about the outcome, but was unable to learn anything.)
Through the kind cooperation of Ms. Jones, I’ve received a copy of the evaluation report and have made it available here as a scanned-in PDF file. The Executive Summary is set out in text below. There is nothing particularly startling here; but given the increased interest lately in digital access to (and from) courtrooms (see, e.g., “Twitter courtroom coverage draws mixed reviews” in the Vancouver Sun yesterday), I thought it might be worthwhile to see what came of an “early” test of transparent courtroom doors.
CCAPP Evaluation Final Report V1.3 15 May O8
This is the final report on evaluation of the Camera in the Court of Appeal Pilot Project (CCAPP) for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
Summary of Methodology
This evaluation comprised the following steps:
- Review of policy documents and briefings related to the justice system and the media.
- Definition of a logic model to show how the CCAP is related to the key priorities and strategies of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
- Development of 7 research questions and an evaluation framework.
- Review of policies, guidelines, procedures, outputs and financial statements related to the design and implementation of the CCAPP.
- Usability analysis of the CCAPP products.
- Analysis of the Court of Appeal web survey.
- Media analysis of references to the Court of Appeal before, during and after the pilot project .
- Structured interviews with 8 key stakeholders in media, the justice system and government staff.
- A Web survey to 28 targeted stakeholders, 13 of whom completed the survey.
- Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the results.
Summary of Findings
- All planned CCAPP activities were carried out in full and the processes used to conduct operations were thorough and effective;
- The main constraints on the CCAPP team were the project’s cost and schedule allocations and the greatest difficulties they faced were dealing with vendors and fixing operational issues;
- The overall cost of the project was $325k with the non-labour portion being $164k, which is less than 10% cost growth over the original budget of $150k
- According to 20 out of 21 people (95%) interviewed and surveyed, the CCAPP enhanced openness and access to courtroom proceedings for the public and the media;
- According to all 21 people interviewed and surveyed, and 80% of 854 Court of Appeal web survey respondents, the CCAPP promoted education and public information regarding Ontario’s justice system directly through its webcast; the CCAPP also enhanced and supported education for the legal profession;
- Following the launch of the pilot, it received no media coverage;
- Little media-coverage was given to appeal cases covered by the CCAPP, with the exception of the Mullins-Johnson case. This is related to the lack of newsworthiness of the civil cases that the remainder of CCAPP coverage comprised;
- All those interviewed and surveyed showed great support for the CCAPP and recommended that cameras should continue in Ontario Courts, with the majority being in favour of expansion to other Courts;
- All those interviewed and surveyed agreed that there are potential negatives to the use of cameras in the courtroom that should be a considered further if a courtroom camera program is to be introduced into Ontario Courts;
- The webcast was readily accessible and easy to use, but since few DVDs were ordered and the audio box was put to little use, there is less evidence regarding these services;
- The pilot projects activities were found to have adequately tested the elements of the Panel’s recommendation re cameras in the courtroom, as validated by 6 out of 7 lawyers who agreed that the pilot clarified that an amendment to the Courts of Justice Act would be practical and beneficial; opinion was divided on the key points that should be included in such an amendment, though most agreed that protection must be given to vulnerable parties and sensitive information;
- Participants suggested numerous improvements for a future camera program, including program management aspects as well as operational improvements, such as better image and audio quality, webcast control and connectivity, the naming of courtroom participants and the provision of online case information.
Summary of Conclusions
CCAPP met its primary objectives;
- The project was well managed within many constraints, the planned activities were carriedout in full and the processes used to conduct operations were thorough and effective;
- All 13 of those consulted recommended that courtroom cameras should be continued and expanded to other Ontario Courts; an amendment to the Courts of Justice Act is justified; it should protect both the rights of the vulnerable and all sensitive data;
- The numerous improvements suggested by participants may be valuable to future camera system developers, who would be required to balance their value against their cost and complexity.
The Ministry of the Attorney General should consider an amendment to the Courts of Justice Act to permit the use of cameras in Ontario Courts.
The CCAPP team is encouraged to write a lessons-learned paper as soon as possible to aid the development of any future camera program for Ontario Courts.