3. ACCESS TO COURT RECORDS
a. General Rule
It is an established rule that our Court is open to the public, but that access to court records must be supervised by the Court to ensure that the ends of justice are not subverted by inappropriate disclosure. Curtailment of public access is only justified where there is a need to protect a social value of superordinate importance. For instance, broad legislative restrictions exist with respect to access to court documents in regard to matters involving youth in family and criminal proceedings. Consistent application of the following access policies by Court Registries across the province is expected by the Court.
Case law on the subject of disclosure of court records indicates that there are several broad policy considerations involved in access to court file documents. The presumption is in favour of public access and the burden of contrary proof lies upon the person who would deny the exercise of that right. Undoubtedly every court has a supervisory and protecting power over its own records. Access can be denied when the ends of justice would be subverted by disclosure or the judicial documents might be used for an improper purpose. See Nova Scotia (Attorney General) v. MacIntyre,  1 SCR 175. The constitutional principles of freedom of expression and the openness of courts are of crucial importance. Freedom of expression "protects listeners as well as speakers" which means that listeners and readers, as members of the public, have a right to information pertaining to public institutions and particularly the courts. This is significant in terms of media access to courts and court records. As noted in Edmonton Journal v. Alberta (Attorney General),  2 SCR 1326:
Here the press plays a fundamentally important role. It is exceedingly difficult for many, if not most, people to attend a court trial. Neither working couples nor mothers or fathers house-bound with young children, would find it possible to attend court. Those who cannot attend rely in large measure upon the press to inform them about court proceedings -- the nature of the evidence that was called, the arguments presented, the comments made by the trial judge -- in order to know not only what rights they may have, but how their problems might be dealt with in court. It is only through the press that most individuals can really learn of what is transpiring in the courts. They as "listeners" or readers have a right to receive this information. Only then can they make an assessment of the institution. Discussion of court cases and constructive criticism of court proceedings is dependent upon the receipt by the public of information as to what transpired in court. Practically speaking, this information can only be obtained from the newspapers or other media.
It is equally important for the press to be able to report upon and for the citizen to receive information pertaining to court documents.
Timeliness is essential to ensure access to court files and documents. The ability of court staff to facilitate timely access can be affected by various factors. For example, where on-site storage is limited, some files may be transferred off site. By necessity, the time required for access to files and documents that are stored off-site will be longer than for files and documents stored at the courthouse. In addition, court staff must prioritize their responsibilities to ensure matters scheduled before the court are proceeding, that the needs of parties and witnesses are met, and that judicial direction is followed. Against this background, court staff must facilitate access to court files and documents as quickly as possible.
3. Journalists who are on the list of accredited journalists and who are therefore permitted to audio record proceedings.Recently I found a software program, on the Internet, that permits travelers to see the pros and cons to their airplane flight seating arrangement, especially where the best places are to sit to stretch those long legs out, the best storage areas nearby for the backpack/laptops, the avoidance of the seats in front of the wing escape doors (the seats DO NOT recline for Emergency reasons). Seat Guru. to the rescue.
Journalists must provide an undertaking and receive a desk order from a Court Services Justice of the Peace (CSJP), with terms that prohibit release of the CD to a third party, or its broadcast, transmission or reproduction in any way, including placement on the internet. In addition, there must be a term that requires the journalist to keep the CD secure and to return it to the Registry when it is no longer required.
4. Any other access
Access to a CD must be by court order by the presiding Judge/JJP or, in that Judge’s/JJP’s absence, the Administrative Judge/JJP, or Judge/JJP assigned by the Administrative Judge/JJP.
However, if a Court Registry is equipped for public listening, parties, counsel, members of the legal profession, accredited journalists, and all members of the public, including journalists who are not accredited, can use the public listening facilities to listen to a recording. If the Registry is not equipped for public listening, public listening will only be permitted if ordered by the Court.
Why hasn't the BC Government legislated such a Seating Guru for the courts? When I was at the Basi Virk Trial, I had to ask those around me where the best seats were in the "House". "Sit closest to where the Defense Counsel will be asking their questions of the Special Prosecutor's Star Witnesses." Where's that I asked. Answer: From the public gallery location, far left, close to the Bar. "What if I want to see the reaction, the answers from the Star Witnesses?" You have to move to the far right of the public gallery, near the Bar. "And if its a Trial by Jury?" The answer was "Make no eye contact with the jurours! either while in the Courtroom or anywhere else!" The last point created a one week delay in the case because a public gallery participant made a passing comment to one of two jurours at a Sky Train Station in Burnaby.
As an aside, the Lunch Break is for an hour and a half. Downtown Vancouver though large, only has two main eatery locations where fast food can be obtained from with little fanfare. Below the Hudson Bay and Georgia and Burrard is one such place the other is where I found myself, at a MacDonalds (Georgia and Burrard) sitting directly across from a Jurour of the Basi Virk Trial. I WAS THERE FIRST. It doesn't mean you have to cut your meal short, you don't have to get up and move along folks, but then again........ don't offer to help the poor guy if he's having trouble doing his Crossword puzzle in a borrowed copy of the New York Times when he has more important duties elsewhere within forty-five minutes, like deciding the fate of three men.
The Registry, this Court document states, on the topic of the CDs provided via the Court Service Justice of the Peace, prohibits the release of the CD to a third party, or its broadcast, transmissions in any way, including placement on the internet. etc. which begs the question, once the CD's have served their purpose, have they been duly returned to the Court?
Would this make a great subject to write on, in a newspaper or a blog? Would it be great to point the finger at delinquencies, like Accredited Journalists, or particular news media outlets, or if one reporter for a newspaper has SHARED the contents of the CD with a fellow Accredited Journalist (which is forbidden) when the second reporter didn't obtain his own copy for his own story so that the Courts (and Government PAB) can track the sources of the stories that end up in the news media?
d. Televising court proceedings
Applications may be made to a judge of the Court to televise or broadcast all or part of the proceedings in a particular case. It is the policy of the Court that such applications may be granted in the discretion of the presiding judge, provided that he or she finds that it is in the public interest that the proceedings, or part of them, be televised or broadcast, and that to do so will not:
a. affect the right of a party to a fair trial;
b. cause discomfort to any witness;
c. interfere with any privacy interests that may override the public interest in televising the proceedings;
d. have the potential effect of deterring witnesses in any future similar cases;
e. cause additional expense to the Court; or
f. otherwise potentially hamper the ongoing administration of justice in relation to Provincial Court proceedings.
The presiding judge may use the BC Supreme Court Practice Direction on Television Coverage of Court Proceedings as a guide in assessing the merits of an application.
a. Prosecutors not mentioned
b. Prosecutor is not a Witness
c. might apply to Prosecutors, but was this section written to include Prosecutors
d. doesn't apply to Prosecutors
e. additional expense to Prosecutors?
f. hamper the Prosecutors?
The Art Gallery has a nice Restaurant, close at hand to the Court House, and on a nice day, the greatest of outdoor patios.