Televised riot trials unlikely, says head of B.C. Crown Counsel Association

  • September 06, 2012

Source: The Globe and Mail
Byline: Justine Hunter and Ian Bailey

Premier Christy Clark’s proposed Riot TV plan is unlikely to take off because judges are only expected to allow cameras in courtrooms with the consent of defendants, says the president of the B.C. Crown Counsel Association.

A provincial court directive sets out the conditions for media to apply to broadcast courtroom proceedings, and one rule stipulates that the application must be signed by all parties in the trial, including the accused.

“It doesn’t seem very likely at all,” said Samiran Lakshman, the Crown counsel association president.

Defence lawyer Ravi Hira of Vancouver said it would be a very “rare circumstance” for any defence lawyer to agree to this kind of publicity. “Why would a defence counsel want to create further publicity for their client accused of a crime? It just creates greater pressure on the accused,” said Mr. Hira, a lawyer for 30 years.

Eric Gottardi, former criminal-section chair of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association, said he could not think of any legal objective for the defence that would be advanced by such broadcast access.

Mr. Gottardi speculated that some witnesses, averse to having their testimony broadcast, might show up in court with their own lawyers retained to argue against broadcast applications.

“The trials in these cases may be bogged down with an application that has nothing to do with the riot charges,” he suggested. “There were lots of obstacles to the timely resolution of these files before this issue raised its ugly head.”

This week, Attorney-General Shirley Bond promised Crown prosecutors will seek broadcast rights in trials related to the Stanley Cup riots. That means Crown prosecutors will advance applications to allow media outlets to bring radio or television recording devices into those trials – a step that is normally left to the media to initiate.

Crown counsel initially opposed the proposal, but Ms. Bond signed an order Tuesday that the criminal justice branch must apply under the same rules that the media would normally follow.

The BC Supreme Court issued a directive last year, which has been adopted by the provincial court, that states media requests for television privileges in courtrooms “must be accompanied by the written consent of the named parties to the proceeding.”

Mr. Lakshman said he doesn’t expect witnesses or defendants to readily agree.

“The reality is that people are reluctant to come to court in the first place and they are really reluctant to have their images captured on the camera for the six o’clock news, let alone on YouTube in the future,” said Mr. Lakshman. “And for good reason.”

He said any witness would have to agree to having their testimony broadcast too. “I can’t imagine any lawyers would want to create a more intimidating atmosphere for witnesses.”

Ms. Bond said Wednesday she cannot force judges to rule in favour of television and radio, but she argued it would be in the public interest to allow the broadcast. She said the Stanley Cup riots are of enough interest to British Columbians that they should be televised.

“The Stanley Cup riots provided us with an opportunity that connected people to an event which is going to proceed through courtrooms across the province, so from our perspective it’s a chance to explore the opening up of courtrooms.”

Vancouver police have promised to lay more than 300 charges in relation to the Game 7 Stanley Cup riot, but none has been laid to date. Those cases will be entering a court system that is already facing lengthy delays. Backlogs in the courts have caused at least 79 cases to be abandoned in B.C. this year, and Ms. Bond said it is not easy to find money to hire more judges right now.

“In light of the challenging economic circumstances, this is a tough time to be asking [for more money]” she said. “But we recognize it’s a priority – none of us wants to see stays in proceedings in courtrooms across the province. So right now we are going through our ministry with a fine tooth comb, looking at how every dollar is spent.”