Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bloggers' rights at The Law Courts?

Dear Curmudgeon (manitoba.curmudgeon@shaw.ca):

As promised, we did check yesterday with file registry at Manitoba Queen's Bench. Staff were not aware of a recent technical issue with www.jus.gov.mb.ca which prevented you from accessing it's online search capacity. However, they did acknowledge it can and has happened in the past. Additionally, they asked us to pass along that although a document has been officially registered there could be day or so lag before it's entered into the electronic system. If you've been there to watch legal assistants (Monday morning is a good time) arrive with literally suitcase sized bags full of documentation requiring registration (common occurrence) you'd understand the reason for the delay.

While there we used the opportunity to do a little research. For reasons as yet unknown, there is no fee or requirement to complete a form when requesting access to a provincial court filing. However, in Queen's Bench there is - $5 plus date, name, address, telephone number plus one piece of photo identification. Why the difference? We know not.

As part of Canada's open court policy combined with freedom of speech and expression, the $5 access fee is waived for media representatives, however, for bloggers it's a grey area requiring definition. Shortly, we'll be contacting a senior Law Court official  requesting this be done. We'll also be applying for a media pass recognizing a certification process will have to be established that will require the establishment of criteria.
Admittedly, CyberSmokeBlog is a one person Ma and Pa Kettle style operation, however, that notwithstanding we believe it can make some very compelling arguments:

(1) We've been blogging since the summer of 2000 before the term "blog" had been invented

(2) The quality of analysis and writing is and remains of a consistently high quality

(3) Our daily visitor numbers are "very robust" and have been spiking recently probably due to increased coverage of high-profile criminal trials. As a public policy we never divulge this metric lest we appear to be bragging ..... Gloat! Gloat! Gloat! Smug! Smug! Smug!

(4) CSB's position is in the public interest (which is what courts are supposed to be all about) and consistent with Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's recent speech in which she called for jurists everywhere to recognize the increasing influence and importance of social media. These simple changes could place  Manitoba Courts on the cutting edge where they deserve to be. We haven't done the research but suspect if an agreement can be achieved there will be few, if any, other jurisdictions that will be able make the same  claim

(5) To do otherwise would be discriminatory and not in the public interest

We have found staff bottom up top down to be very reasonable with a genuine concern in seeing justice done and public confidence in the system maintained. Should these simple requests be denied, something we severely doubt, we will seriously consider filing a complaint with Ombudsman Manitoba and/or Manitoba Human Rights Commission and/or Canadian Human Rights Commission and/or the Public Interest Law Centre, Legal Aid Manitoba and even San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation to explore options and ascertain what assistance they'd be willing to provide.

Final point. Tried to access the "Vikileaks file" yesterday but it was "about" which may be code for suggesting someone in Administration is having a good read. Monday we'll make a formal request that could take 2-3 days before we actually get to see it if past experience is any guide.

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk

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