Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cameras in inquests: A no-brainer

A judge in the Western Canadian province of Manitoba will announce on March 19, 2010 whether he will allow televised coverage of an important inquest.

This should be a no-brainer. Cameras belong in inquests and courts, just as Canada allows them in public inquiries.

Local media outlets are seeking permission to broadcast and live stream coverage of the inquest in the case of Brian Sinclair, whose death after 34 hours in the emergency ward of a large hospital has raised all sorts of issues.

Cameras aren't allowed in inquests and other court proceedings basically because the rules were created before television was invented. But hey, TVs have been in almost everyone's home for more than half a century, long enough to be made almost obsolete by online live streaming and recorded coverage.

Journalists are already covering judicial proceedings on Twitter.

The nurses' union says it fears that disclosing identifying information would endanger some nurses.

Simple solution: if the union can persuade a judge that this is true in any case, the judge can simply ban the disclosure of that information -- just as the courts routinely protect the identities of undercover police and victims of sexual assault.

Judges should leap at this chance to get on camera, and not only because it would allow wide public access to judicial proceedings.

Televising judges at work would shatter myths, perpetuated by tabloid columnists, open-mouth radio hosts and their yappy acolytes, that judges are arrogant high-paid fatcats isolated from reality.

Canadian judges are serious to the point of being boring in court. They are very concerned about fairness and proper procedure.

Oh, and they really don't like people wearing hats in court.

Television coverage of this inquest and trials in general would demolish a couple of other misconceptions created by television dramas, many of them American:

Canadian judges never bang their gavels. They don't have gavels.

And perhaps more important, many Canadian judges are women.

Sit in a a Canadian trial court and you will witness the increasingly female face of justice. Not just the judge, but many of the lawyers and the court clerks and other officials are women.

We have lots to learn and nothing to fear from allowing cameras into this inquest, and into courts in general.

We can even wear hats while watching.

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