Superior Court of Ontario Allows Lawyers and Journalists to Use Electronic Media in Court

The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has issued a ‘protocol’ that will (as of February 1) allow lawyers, licensed paralegals, law students, self-represented parties, and ‘media or journalists’ to use electronic communications devices (broadly defined to include laptops and smart phones) in court without express permission. Naturally there are some conditions, including:

  • don’t disturb the proceedings
  • don’t distribute any information that is subject to a publication ban
  • don’t take any pictures
  • don’t distribute recordings (though lawyers and journalists may make recordings for their own use)

However, “Members of the public are not permitted to use electronic devices in the courtroom unless the presiding judge orders otherwise.” In other words, the rules of section 136 of the Courts of Justice Act continue to apply to the general public, as they will apply to photography by those who have the general permission noted above.

Does this seem appropriate to you?

How will supervising officials, or for that matter compliance-minded people in the courtroom, decide who falls into the class ‘media or journalists’, in this day of widespread blogging? The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that rules about defamation (notably the right of responsible reporting of matters of public interest) apply to anyone reporting, not just accredited journalists. And these days many employed journalists are also self-employed on the side. Should one try to distinguish between a professional and someone doing it for free?

Do you have any other concerns with the protocol? Does it go far enough? Will you take advantage of it, and how?

Happy new technology year!

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Comments

  1. David Collier-Brown

    This is an active problem for the U.S. legal/technical website groklaw, which depends on the reports of volunteers attending trials to provide up-to-date information.

  2. The question of identifying journalists may be more urgent with the new technology but it is not otherwise a new question. I made my living for some years as a free lance journalist, mainly doing radio documentaries for CBC. The way the process worked at that time was that I needed to collect enough tape that I could approach a program producer and pitch the idea to her. So at the time that I was collecting the first half of my tape or more I was not working for the CBC and had no more than a hope that I might be in the immediate future.

    In my next career, when I was doing parliamentary relations for various First Nations organizations, the Senate refurbished its committee rooms so that there were ear phone outlets at all the tables. I don’t think they had yet revised their rule against recording. However, if a person lucked into a seat at a table, behind the Senators on the committee, you could plug your tape recorder (remember those?) into the earplug outlet and keep the recording device fairly inconspicuous. In other words, it was not yet legal but it was tolerated.