Ontario’s Superior Court has established a policy on tweeting in court, paving the way for journalists and lawyers to use electronic devices, but banning members of the public from doing so.
Ontario becomes one of the last provinces to establish such a policy, though it doesn’t appear to apply to provincial or appeal courts.
The directive, which comes into effect on Feb. 1, says that electronic devices in silent mode can be used discreetly in courtrooms by counsel and journalists to transmit “publicly accessible live communications” unless the judge orders otherwise.
Members of the public won’t be allowed to use electronic devices — defined as computers, personal electronic and digital devices, as well as cellphones and smartphones — unless the judge says they can.
The rules say the device being used can’t interfere with the court recording equipment, which can occur in some courtrooms.
Anyone allowed to blog or tweet in court is responsible for adhering to any publication bans or other restrictions and photographs and video continue to be banned.
British Columbia and Saskatchewan both brought in new policies last month allowing “accredited journalists” and lawyers to use electronic devices in trial courts, with Saskatchewan even specifying that they may tweet from the courtroom.
With no specification of “accredited journalists” provided by the Ontario Superior Court in its rules, it remains unclear how court staff will determine who falls under their category of “media or journalists.”
The B.C. courts tried to head off any disputes about who was deemed accredited by putting the issue right to journalists. The court formed a committee of newspaper and broadcast journalists in the province and they were given the task of deciding who to accredit.
A group of judges and other members of the justice system recently proposed a set of national guidelines to remedy the current patchwork of policies. The Canadian Centre for Court Technology’s proposed guidelines go farther than them all, suggesting that anyone attending an open court hearing be allowed to use electronic devices set to silent or vibrate mode unless the presiding judge specifically rules otherwise.
Many provinces allow anyone to use such devices in appeal courts, as fears about witnesses and juries are largely moot there.
Ontario had seen judges in several high-profile cases attempt to tackle the issue.
Tweeting was allowed at the trial of former Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien, who was ultimately acquitted of influence peddling. It was allowed in London, but only in an overflow courtroom, at the trial of Michael Rafferty, who was convicted of abducting, sexually assaulting and murdering eight-year-old Victoria Stafford. It was banned outright in Kingston at the so-called honour killing trial of the Shafia family.
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