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Moving pictures ain’t so bad

In mid-March, Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley said in an interview with the Canadian Press that he was open to the idea of putting cameras in the courtroom and wanted to canvass judges, prosecutors, and defence counsel on their thoughts about it. “I’m interested in the views of people as to whether we should move forward,” he said. “I’m open.”

Ontario had a pilot project in 2007 that saw courtroom No. 1 at the Ontario Court of Appeal wired for live streaming of proceedings. Last month, I participated in a meeting with the court’s media committee at which judges admitted there had been a report done on the short-term pilot and it had been well-received, however not much had been done with the report since then. CP got hold of the report, which recommended the attorney general amend the Courts of Justice Act to allow the use of cameras in Ontario courts, saying their images have “great potential” as a learning tool for students and lawyers.

In January, Canadian Lawyer reported that British Columbia Attorney General Mike de Jong was also putting together a camera-in-the-courts pilot project. He’s all for it, but says it’s up to the judges to give a yay or nay on putting the cameras in for the pilot. A positive step forward on that front came recently when B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman decided to allow TV cameras in courtroom 55 for the final days of the polygamy reference case. The closing arguments and final summations of all parties should be completed by April 8.

Cameras are everywhere in today’s society, and transparency is essential to the concept of justice in our system. Allowing cameras and recording devices in the courtrooms has been the norm in the United States for years. It is true that sometimes things get a little “dramatic” in the courts, but the justice system there hasn’t fallen apart. Judges here in Canada fear the decorum and dignity of the court could be lost, but perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps if those arguing cases before the courts are televised so everyone, including their moms, can see what they’re up to, it might even make counsel think twice before behaving badly.

The ongoing campaign of law societies and other leaders of the bar to bring civility back into the courts could get a boost in the arm from having everyone’s bad behaviour out there for all to see. I think that’s more likely than the legal system being brought into disrepute in any way, shape, or form. Witnesses can be protected, other concerns can be addressed. It’s 2011, let’s get some cameras into those courtrooms. I want my court TV!