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CJFE disappointed by Supreme Court ruling on electronic access to courts

(CJFE/IFEX) - Toronto, Jan 28, 2011 - Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is disappointed by today's decision on the "cameras in court-hallways" case by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Two of the central issues being considered were whether media organizations should be able to film and record in areas of the courthouses outside of the courtroom and whether they could broadcast the official audio recordings of court proceedings. On both counts the Supreme Court has denied media the right.

In 2004, the Quebec Supreme Court enacted new rules which limited media from reporting by electronic means from the court. The result of this ban was to give the media only one way of conveying information to the public - by text. Essentially, microphones and cameras had no practical place in the courts, the corridors outside the courts, or in areas where interviews with witnesses could be sought. CBC and other media organizations appealed the Quebec ruling which was upheld in today's decision.

"We believe this decision is a setback to the media's ability to gather news about what takes place in the courts," said CJFE President Arnold Amber. "Courts are public institutions and operate in Canada on the open court principle - but this ruling makes it more difficult for the public to find out what goes on inside those public institutions."

The Court recognized that the restrictions on media's ability to news gather is an infringement of free expression rights, but has found that the infringement is "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." The Court justified the limitation in order to ensure "the serenity of hearings" claiming that the "fair administration of justice is necessarily dependent on maintaining order and decorum in and near courtrooms and on protecting the privacy of litigants appearing before the courts."

"Any decision that restricts the right of the media to report and collect information with regards to judicial proceedings is very disappointing," said Peter Jacobsen, a lawyer and member of CJFE's board. "The view of the Supreme Court of Canada that journalist activities in the courthouse could somehow impinge on the judicial process seems to contradict the approach we take in public inquiries where witnesses are often called to testify in difficult situations as well."

CJFE believes that if courts are to be truly open to the public, then the courts must move into the 21st century and allow the use of modern technology to provide the public with the ability to see and hear what goes on in the courts. We urge legislatures to take a hard look at whether such restrictive measures are necessary.

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