B.C. Court of Appeal to webcast hearing

The B.C. Court of Appeal is set to live webcast a hearing Thursday as part of a pilot project looking to allow greater public access to court processes.

The webcasting of an appeal in Taseko Mines Limited v. Western Canada Wilderness Committee will be the second of three hearings the province plans to webcast after the Court of Appeal conducted a webcast of the proceedings in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) in 2013.

“The webcasts are aimed at allowing greater public scrutiny of court processes and facilitating access to the courts for those who might face barriers to attending in person,” says Sally Rudolf, legal counsel for the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

Rudolf says the webcasts could be particularly useful for rural residents who want to attend hearings, but cannot physically attend court because of work, health or financial reasons.

She says feedback about the project has been largely positive so far and the court has found that the webcasting process in Carter was unobtrusive for the courtroom. Rudolf says she has heard from law professors who say the archived footage of the Carter webcast has served as a useful educational tool in both advocacy and appellate practice courses.

The court found that there was a sizable interest in the webcasting of Carter, as it attracted 1,939 unique views on the first day of the hearing. The average viewership for the five-day hearing was 864 per day, but Rudolf stresses this might not reflect the actual number of people who viewed the webcast, as some of the unique views could represent whole classrooms of students who viewed the webcast through a single computer connection.

Rudolf says the court hopes to determine through the three-hearing pilot whether there is enough demand to justify the cost of making webcasting a permanent fixture of the Court of Appeal. The court has not determined which case will be webcast in the third hearing of the pilot.

Other provinces have also started testing and using webcasting in their courts over the last decade. Nova Scotia Courts broadcast its first live webcast of a new judge’s robing ceremony in a provincial court in 2008.

Since then, the province has webcast a number of proceedings in high definition, including 19 robing ceremonies, Court of Appeal hearings, class action certification hearings in the Supreme Court in Halifax, as well as a 55-day fatal investigation inquiry into the death of Howard Hyde, a mentally ill man who died in police custody.

Jennifer Stairs, the director of communications for the executive office of the Nova Scotia Judiciary, says that the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal is the only court in the province that has an established written protocol regarding webcasting proceedings, but the Supreme Court has still allowed it on several occasions.

“Ultimately, the issue of access is one for the presiding judge or panel of judges to determine,” says Stairs.

“The protocol is meant to guide judges in making such decisions when there is a request from counsel or media for webcasting.”

The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General launched its own pilot project in 2007 to webcast 21 appeal hearings in the Court of Appeal, but there is no program currently in place.

“The Court would be open to webcasting hearings, if the Ministry of the Attorney General were interested in initiating such a project in the future,” says Jacob Bakan, special counsel for the office of the chief justice of Ontario.

The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General did not provide comment before deadline.

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