Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Congratulations Judge Cunningham!

Good Day Readers:

Ontario Superior Court Associate Chief Justice J. Douglas Cunningham's decision to allow twittering in his courtroom is a major breakthrough for those who support greater public access to the judicial system in the electronic age. While his ruling only applies to this particular criminal trial, nevertheless, it does set a precedent upon which future rulings in other jurisdictions may be based.

In at least one other jurisdiction in Canada, there may be others, lawyers are permitted to contact Judges and Justices by e-mail not so here in Manitoba. Even litigants must use slow, less efficient surface mail because e-mail addresses for senior court officials are not available.

Although the O'Brien case is a trial by Judge, it seems to us the issue of jurors twittering is easily circumvented. Simply require them to sign a consent form prior to trial stating if they are caught text messaging they will be immediately removed and subject to a penalty. The judiciary can decide whether a fine and/or jail sentence is appropriate - that should curb the temptation.

The next great breakthrough? Hopefully, cameras in courtrooms.

Clare L. Pieuk
Otawa Mayor Larry O'Brien leaves during a break in hearings on the first day of his criminal trial at the Ottawa court houseMay 4, 2009. He says the charges against him are a sham and "politically motivated."

Ottawa courtroom to allow Twittering from mayor's bribery trial

Glen McGregor, Canwest News Service

Monday, May 4, 2009

OTTAWA -- Television cameras are barred from the criminal trial of Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien, but observers are free to use Blackberrys, laptops and other forms of electronic text messaging to report live on the proceedings.

The ruling will allow Canwest News Service and other news organizations to provide moment-by-moment coverage of the trial via the popular Internet messaging service Twitter. It applies to anyone who attends, not just journalists.

In a small breakthrough for new media technologies, Judge J. Douglas Cunningham rejected concerns about "putting the genie back in the bottle" and said he would allow journalists to send messages from his courtroom directly to the Internet.

Judge Cunningham, who is associate chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court, cautioned that the ruling applies only to this particular trial. The new technologies could raise other concerns in a jury trial, he said.

The Citizen brought the application to allow its reporters to use their Blackberrys in court.

Lawyer Rick Dearden said reporters have a right to use the devices to gather and disseminate news from court and he rejected a suggestion, advanced by a lawyer assisting the court, that it could put a 20-minute delay on electronic updates. Dearden said this "play is under review" provision would amount to a temporary publication ban without satisfying the legal test for such a restriction.

At the same time, Judge Cunningham rebuked the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as he rejected its application to stream live video and audio from the courtroom to its website. Judge Cunningham said the CBC application, which was filed only last week, came "woefully late" and "failed spectacularly."

The rulings came after a day of debate over media coverage of the case that began after Mr. O'Brien entered a not guilty plea to the two charges of purported influence peddling.

For the rest of the day, Mr. O'Brien and his wife, Colleen, and his ex-wife, Debbie, sat in the front row of the court gallery as lawyers argued over an application.

Mr. O'Brien faces two criminal charges over allegations he offered to help former candidate Terry Kilrea get a job with the National Parole Board in exchange for dropping out of the 2006 mayoralty race that Mr. O'Brien eventually won.

In arguments over the BlackBerrys and text-messaging, Crown attorney Scott Hutchison said electronic updates from the court, once published, could not be retrieved once in the "Twittersphere."

"The issue is whether or not the genie can be put back in the bottle," he said.

By example, he noted that he intended to call as a witness David Penner, the official in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office responsible for federal appointments. It is possible Mr. Penner's testimony could address something covered by cabinet confidences, Mr. Hutchison said.

Judge Cunningham said he was aware it would be difficult if not impossible to stop the instantaneous transmission of private or protected information that came up during the trial.

"That's a risk I'll have to take," he said in his ruling, which allowed that instant transmission to the blogosphere is now a reality. "That is the world in which live."

Ottawa Citizen


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