Cameras in court makes process more public, say Manitoba's top judges
Pilot project to allow TV cameras in province's courtrooms begins tomorrow
Manitoba's top judges say the province's courts must be more open to the public, which is why they will start routinely allowing TV cameras in its courtrooms for select hearings.
The Court of Appeal, Court of Queen's Bench and provincial court are taking part in a pilot project, which starts Wednesday, that will allow video recordings of some hearings.
Manitoba Chief Justice Richard Chartier says the project is part of an ongoing initiative to improve public access to the justice system.
"Courts must be open to the public. This principle is a hallmark of a democratic society and has long been recognized as a cornerstone of the common law — so says the Supreme Court of Canada, so say we. That is the law," Chartier told reporters on Tuesday.
"Justice must only be done, it must be seen to be done."
On Wednesday, cameras will live-stream the verdict in the second-degree murder trial of Cassandra Knott, who is charged in connection with her husband's death in 2011.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Shane Perlmutter will hand down his verdict at 1 p.m.
The cameras will return on April 30, when the Court of Appeal will hear the appeal of Denis Jerome Labossiere's three first-degree murder convictions in the deaths of his parents and brother in a farm house fire in 2005.
For these two sessions, CBC will provide other media outlets with live audio and video pool feeds.
Going forward, there will be designated courtrooms where it is presumed that everything will be broadcast, said Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Court of Queen's Bench.
Joyal said lawyers are welcome to argue against having a camera in court, but the assumption is that they are allowed.
"The initiative is meant to kickstart what we think is a needed normalization for this type of public information," he said.
But there will be limitations: for example, when Knott's verdict is handed down on Wednesday, the cameras will only show Perlmutter, the judge.
Under guidelines that have been put in place, only proceedings with judges and lawyers presenting will be pre-selected for broadcast.
Cameras won't be allowed to record jury trials, witnesses giving testimony, or any case that could endanger a child.
"It is a baby step, and we will be evaluating," said Chartier.
Even with restrictions on what can be broadcast, he said some judges are nervous about having their proceedings on camera.
"Let's be clear — a lot of people are anxious about what's happening here today. The judges, there's a certain level of anxiety into what's going to happen," Chartier said.
"The apprehension of the judges is with respect to what this will do to the administration of justice."
Ahead of the game
Allan Fineblit, chief executive officer of the Law Society of Manitoba, says the anxiety is because the province is ahead of the game.
"It's always a little bit stressful the first time you do something, but I think once people get used to it they'll forget about it entirely and it'll just proceed as it always does," he said.
The move to allow cameras in Manitoba's courtrooms is being welcomed by Daniel Henry, a Canadian media lawyer who has written extensively on the issue.
Henry said he hopes allowing cameras to broadcast court proceedings will help people understand what actually goes on during trials and hearings.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about what happens in court and that leads ultimately, potentially, to bad public policy when people are demanding things from the court system," he told CBC News in an interview.
"Once they get into it, once they see what's happening, they can appreciate the nuances, they can appreciate there's a lot being taken into consideration and that fairness and justice is really being done."
With files from The Canadian Press