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Goal of court-camera venture to increase access: judges

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Two courtrooms at the Law Courts Complex in Winnipeg may become venues where it's simply expected that proceedings will be recorded by a TV camera and broadcast to the general public, Manitoba's top judges have revealed.

Details of a bold cameras-in-court initiative were announced jointly Tuesday morning by Court of Appeal Chief Justice Richard Chartier, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Glenn Joyal and Chief Judge Ken Champagne of the provincial court.

The goal of the court camera venture is to increase access to justice and enhance public confidence in the court system, the judges said. It is being evaluated as a pilot project over the coming months.

Depending on how things go, two courtrooms, one in Queen's Bench and one in provincial court, may ultimately become designated rooms where it's simply presumed whatever case is selected to be heard there will be allowed to be broadcast.

As well, Chartier suggested the Court of Appeal's main hearing room, Courtroom 330, could become presumptively open to cameras.

It's not currently being contemplated that trials or hearings where live witness testimony would be placed in those rooms.

Likely, the room would feature cases where lawyers are making arguments or judges are delivering decisions, the judges said.

Parties would still be allowed to object to the case being broadcast, said Joyal, but the underlying principle is that cameras are allowed.

A process will be in place to allow objectors and the media to make arguments for and against camera access. The final say will always fall to the presiding judge.

"I think you may get less opposition than you would expect if this operation proceeds with the type of civility and organization and type of purpose that we want," Joyal said.

Wednesday's 1 p.m. broadcast of the verdict in the Cassandra Knott domestic-violence murder trial was deemed appropriate for broadcast because it will simply feature Associate Chief Justice Shane Permutter delivering written reasons for his decision. No submissions from lawyers is expected.

A pool feed camera provided by CBC Manitoba will be allowed to focus only on Perlmutter and not other players in the room, including Knott, who's accused of stabbing her abusive common-law husband, Orzias Knott, to death inside a downtown apartment block on Feb. 18, 2011.

There was no intention of singling out the Knott case for undue attention, Joyal said. The camera project, largely in the works since 2008, simply had to start somewhere.

"If the process is properly handled, I think it will show that in the warm light of day that the court … works in a way that's consistent with access to justice," Joyal said.

Some judges have expressed some anxiety about the project, Chartier conceded.

He described it as a "baby step" that will be subject to evaluation and close scrutiny to see if it's fulfilling it's goal of increasing access and confidence in the administration of justice.

The second test case is set for April 30, when the Manitoba Court of Appeal hears an appeal in one of Manitoba's most notorious homicide cases.

Jerome Labossière was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of his parents and brother in 2005. The bodies of Fernand Labossière, 78, his wife Rita, 74, and the couple's son Rémi, 44, were found in their burned-out farmhouse in St. Leon.

Labossière is seeking a new trial based on alleged errors made by his trial judge.

Media lawyer Bob Sokalski, who was present for the announcement, suggested the move to televise court hearings will also put an onus on the media to provide balanced and fair court coverage and may reduce complaints about "selective editing."

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 6:35 PM CDT: Fixes typos.

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