A recent conflict in a Winnipeg courtroom demonstrates again why cameras should be allowed in the courts.
In a murder trial on Aug. 30, sheriff’s officers alerted the judge that family members of the accused had complained someone was using a cell phone to record images of their relative.
The Winnipeg Free Press reports what Justice Glenn Joyal, associate chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, general division, said next:
"If anyone takes a picture in this courtroom ... you'll be out of here so fast your head will spin," said Joyal. "So think twice. I won't have a lot of patience or tolerance for this type of thing."
Why are photos forbidden in the courtroom? Well, because judges say they are. Courtrooms were around before cameras.
Of course, there are legitimate concerns, for example identifying witnesses or accused people who are under 18 or whose identities need to be protected for other reasons. No reasonable person would argue about that. Restricting pictures of such people would be quite simple.
But this is a visual age. People, including the taxpayers who pay for the justice system, should be able to see what goes on in the courts.
News media have repeatedly offered to work with justice officials on demonstration projects that would open up the courts to television and still cameras, with restrictions to maintain decorum.
Such coverage would demystify the legal process and reduce the incentive for citizens to try to take their own unauthorized shots.
Judges, who are forbidden to answer criticism publicly, would benefit from such openness. It would reduce the amount of unfair criticism by ignorant columnists, bloggers and other commentators (not that such stuff ever meets your eyes, dear reader).
Jeffrey Oliphant, a former top Manitoba judge, has supported the idea of such projects. In fact, Oliphant’s public inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair was televised live, with no ill effects on anyone.
But we deserve to see criminal trials, too.