The court of public opinion is about to get an unprecedented look inside the justice system.
Cameras will begin rolling later this week in select Winnipeg courtrooms as part of a pilot project meant to bring people closer than ever to the legal action.
The initiative, put together by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench and the Manitoba Provincial Court, will officially be unveiled at a news conference this morning.
It marks the first time Manitoba media will be allowed to broadcast events from court.
"Any time we can take steps to open up the justice system, open up the courtrooms, is something to be celebrated," provincial court Judge Ray Wyant said. "This is a great first step."
Wyant first broached the idea of cameras in the courts when he was chief judge several years ago. A committee was previously struck to study the idea and included participation from a Free Press reporter.
'Any time we can take steps to open up the justice system, open up the courtrooms, is something to be celebrated'
Wyant no longer sits in the chief judge role, but is happy to hear his vision is finally being realized.
"It will be educational and it will be informative," he said.
The first test case is Wednesday, when Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice Shane Perlmutter is slated to deliver a verdict in the case of Cassandra Knott, who is facing a second-degree murder charge following the death of her husband, Orzias Joram Knott. The 34-year-old man was stabbed inside a Kennedy Street suite on Feb. 18, 2011. Lawyers argued the accused acted in self-defence.
Perlmutter's decision is expected to be heard at 1 p.m. Anyone with access to a computer will be able to watch it unfold. The CBC has agreed to be the pool provider of video and audio feeds for all media outlets.
"All the chief justices should be applauded for this effort," Winnipeg lawyer David Asper said Monday. "It may take some time to get things right, but Manitobans will be well served by being able to see their justice system at work."
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.
Jér¥me 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 will be seeking to have the verdicts overturned and a new trial ordered based on alleged errors made by the judge. Proceedings in that case are expected to get underway at 9:30 a.m.
A third provincial court case scheduled for broadcast has not yet been announced.
"Selfishly, as I get older and closer to retirement I hope that one day there will be a channel that is 24-hour Manitoba courts," Asper joked Monday.
Wyant said not every case will be "must-see TV," as much of what goes on in court can be "boring and mundane." And Wyant said the judiciary will also have to struggle with balancing potential security concerns, such as from witnesses or even justice participants, when deciding what cases can go to air.
For now, the test cases won't involve any testimony, which is by design. Presumably, there will be an evaluation period once these initial three cases are broadcast to see where the project goes next.
"While courts are open to the public, few members have the opportunity to attend those courts in person," justice spokeswoman Aimee Fortier said in a release announcing the initiative. "Most people rely on the media to tell them what happens. As a result, the media play an important role with regard to informing the public about the operation of the courts and the open-court principle."
Wyant said he believes most of his colleagues on the bench will welcome the opportunity to have the public see a full record of what goes on in court.
"It's not the media's job to tell the story of the justices," said Wyant.
"If people have the opportunity to go online, or watch things for themselves, they can make their own judgments."
Currently, Nova Scotia courts have experimented with cameras while the Supreme Court of Canada does allow for live broadcasts of hearings.
But the idea is still very much in its infancy in this country, unlike the United States, where cameras are common.
-- with files from James Turner
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