01 August 2012

BC Courts Release Policy on Use of Electronic Devices

The courts of British Columbia have today released a rare joint policy statement (PDF) on the use of electronic devices in courtrooms which will take effect on 17 September 2012. Here's a summary.

Prohibited Uses of Electronic Devices
  1. The use of electronic devices — defined as anything capable of recording or transmitting audio or data — to "transmit or receive text" is prohibited except as permitted by the policy statement.
  2. The use of electronic devices to record images or video is prohibited.
  3. The use of electronic devices to transcribe proceedings in court is prohibited.
  4. The use of electronic devices in a manner that interferes with courtroom electronics or courtroom decorum is prohibited.
Permitted Uses for the General Public
  1. Any person may unobtrusively transmit or receive text in a courtroom of the Court of Appeal.
Permitted Uses for Lawyers and Accredited Media
  1. Lawyers and accredited members of the media may unobtrusively transmit or receive text in a courtroom of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
  2. Accredited members of the media may record proceedings in any courtroom for the sole purpose of verifying their notes.
Nothing in this policy statement restricts the autonomy of individual judges to manage their courtrooms and the proceedings before them. Nothing in the policy statement alters the effect of any publication bans or sealing orders that may be in effect in respect of a proceeding.

Update: 2 August 2012

Ian Mulgrew has published an article on the Vancouver Sun website on the courts' new electronic device policy which begins as follows:
"The decision by B.C.’s two trial courts to allow in-court tweeting only by accredited journalists and lawyers smells of judicial snobbery. 
"There’s no good reason anyone with a legal degree, along with me and my ilk, should be allowed to fire off email and 140-character notes from a courtroom while an ordinary joe gets the bum’s rush from the sheriff."
Actually, there is a good reason. 

The concern about allowing someone to tweet from inside a courtroom, or email or text for that matter, is that the person could be sending information about the evidence being presented in court to influence the evidence of a subsequent witness, intimidate the witness into recanting or altering his or her evidence, or otherwise frustrate the trial process and the frankness of the testimony presented. It was likely for this reason that no prohibitions on tweeting or texting were imposed for Court of Appeal proceedings since the Court of Appeal does not hear oral evidence; the only courts subject to the prohibition are the two trial courts.

In other words, the likely purpose of the policy was to balance modernization of the court's approach to new technology against the risk to the integrity of the trial process. Like I said, it had nothing to do with "judicial snobbery."