“Live” informational feeds from inside Cayman Islands courtrooms have been allowed in the territory in recent years, as social media and 24-7 internet news operations have proliferated.
However, the courts administration is now grappling with the issue of those who don’t work for the established media organizations, but who, thanks to the internet, have the same ability to post “updates” on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media in real time.
The courts have issued proposed “guidance” rules, upon which they are seeking public input, for the use of text-based information, as well as the potential recording of sound from inside the courtroom.
In general, the rules distributed by Courts Administrator Kevin McCormac would allow posting of real time “text updates”, given the permission of a court.
The proposal requires a member of the general public who wishes to use “live” text-based communications during court proceedings to make an application to the court. The device, whether it is a cell phone, a laptop, iPad etc., would have to be used in silent mode.
“The paramount question [in considering the application] for the judge or magistrate will be whether the application may interfere with the proper administration of justice,” the proposed guidance rules state.
The danger to the administration of justice is likely to be more pervasive in the context of criminal trials, the guidance rules state.
For instance, the courts administrator points to the potential for “witnesses who are out of court may be informed of what has already happened in court and so coached or briefed before they then give evidence.”
Also, information posted on Twitter, for instance, regarding evidence that a judge rules inadmissible could have an influence on sitting members of a jury trial.
“The danger is not confined to criminal proceedings,” the court’s proposal noted. “In civil, and sometimes family proceedings, simultaneous reporting from the courtroom may create pressure on witnesses, distracting or worrying them.”
For the media, the rules are slightly different. A reporter wishing to update a news website or post on Twitter or Facebook could do so without making an application to the court.
“It is presumed that a representative of the media or a legal commentator using live, text-based communications from court does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case,” the proposed rules state. “This is because the most obvious purpose of permitting the use of live, text-based communications would be to enable the media to produce fair and accurate reports of the proceedings.
“It may be necessary for the judge or magistrate to limit live, text-based communications to representatives of the media for journalistic purposes, but to disallow its use by the wider public in court. That may arise if it is necessary, for example, to limit the number of mobile electronic devices in use at any given time because of the potential for electronic interference with the court’s own sound recording equipment or because the widespread use of such devices in court may cause a distraction in the proceedings.”
Sound and video
Typically, prohibitions on photography, whether still or video, is absolute in Cayman Islands court hearings.
However, sound recordings within the court have been allowed, if the judge agrees with the use of such devices. In such cases, the judge is to consider the “reasonable need” on the part of the applicant for the recording to be made, including for the purposes of the press or for broadcasting.
How such a recording might be used outside of the court would also need to be considered, the proposed guidance rules state.
Judges can also make determinations on whether use of sound recording devices would “distract or worry” witnesses or other participants in the court process.