Often times academics, judges, and lawyers complain about the public’s disengagement with the legal system, proclaiming that if only the public voiced their concerns then the justice system would be properly funded. But now we have meaningful public discourse about our justice system, including debate over defence tactics through the conversation surrounding the Ghomeshi trial.
Lawyers, laypeople, and reporters alike cling to every tweet, as their only avenue of following the questioning and arguments. Beyond news coverage, it is nearly impossible to follow. To watch the trial, people need to line up at 7:50 a.m. each day to get a ticket.
Should the trial be televised?
Every lawyer I have asked to date has responded with a clear “No”.
In Ontario, trials are not televised. Only Supreme Court of Canada proceedings are televised and streamed. Perhaps if video technology existed hundreds of years ago, it would be tradition today to televise popular proceedings.
In the United States, several high profile trials have been televised. The OJ Simpson trial was televised. The Steven Avery trial was televised. In fact, it was the recording of the trial that made the documentary Making a Murderer so compelling, and which has fueled public debate about the criminal justice system.
Putting aside the publication ban on two of the witnesses, why shouldn’t the trial be televised? Why should only Torontonians that can take a day off work and line up at 7:50 a.m. be able to watch the trial? Why should we curtail public interest?
The common answers I have heard are:
- Televised proceedings will distort testimony;
- it will disincentivize people from coming forward as complainants or testifying at trial; and
- it will undermine the seriousness of the proceeding.
In response I say, courtrooms are public proceedings, not private arbitrations. As revealed, by the tweets regurgitating the questions asked and answered.
Public engagement should be encouraged. Public discourse admired. Saying that trials are public because we can walk into a courtroom hides the truth. Trials are practically obscure. This obscurity prevents true openness of the courts, thereby undermining the health of our democracy. Open courts facilitate the rule of law, a foundational principle of our democracy.