As pandemic restrictions ease, lawyers hope to see court proceedings continue to be broadcast

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Cameras have long been kept out of courtrooms in Ontario, but since courts began taking steps to continue proceedings during pandemic restrictions using videoconferencing software, some lawyers and advocates said it was time to make the courts more open to the public.

“We’ve often heard that the sky will fall if this airs,” said defense attorney Sean Robichaud, who has previously advocated for cameras in courtrooms.

“But what really happened was that the procedure went on rather boringly and uneventfully and nothing changed.”

Proceedings in Ontario were brought online in 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19. Last October, the first jury trial took place in Windsor after 20 months of closure. The proceedings took place in person and took place in four courtrooms, some were able to follow the trial through a virtual link. Media and others also watched online earlier this month as a Superior Court judge listened to arguments and decided to grant an injunction against protesters blocking the Ambassador Bridge border crossing.

Robichaud said people quickly forget they’re on the air and it just becomes another day in court.

“Decorum is observed and orders are given on what can and cannot be broadcast and everything goes as it should,” he said.

Defense attorney Sean Robichaud says the sky did not fall as some had predicted if the court proceedings were allowed to air. (provided)

“I am not optimistic that this will persist because it will no longer be driven by necessity,” Robichaud said, adding that defendants should always be given the opportunity to face their accusers in person.

“I think it’s a very important thing and I don’t want to undermine that at all, but there are a lot of witnesses that we don’t need to have in person.”

good for the system

Bobby Russon, who is a defense attorney in Windsor, agrees with Robichaud. He said he thinks the airing of certain proceedings has been good for the justice system.

“A lot of people really have no idea what’s going on and we kind of have a spark of outrage when something major happens,” he said. “Whereas if you were a little more in tune with the day-to-day workings of it, you would have a better understanding.”

“He said people can already request access to audio recordings of court proceedings, as well as the ability to attend in person, so it wouldn’t be a big step to continue allowing people to tune in line,” Russon said.

“I think at least for some topics it would make sense to open up at least a bit more.”

But he said he didn’t think the floodgates should be fully open.

“Obviously there are certain things that need to be protected, you know, vulnerable witnesses, vulnerable victims,” he said.

“There are certain things that you don’t want to publish if it’s a case that finally goes to a jury and is no longer before a jury…but we have publication bans for that reason.”

Windsor lawyer Bobby Russon says holding court proceedings online improves the public’s understanding of the justice system. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

He also said that having certain procedures also saves a ton of time and resources.

“There are a lot of things we want to keep virtual; daily remand courts, video remand courts, simple guilty pleas and sentencing, simple and straightforward bail hearings,” did he declare.

CBC asked to speak to someone from the Attorney General’s office or the Crown’s office about continuing courtroom broadcasts in the future, but no one was able to respond.

Government investment

Earlier this month, a news release said the province would invest $65 million over the next two years to “expand access to video-by-video hearings.”

This would “ensure that the latest technology is more widely available, which would help speed up access to hearings, reduce the need for in-person visits, and better serve those who need to attend court in person.”

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