Canada Court Watch - Family Justice Review Committee
Policy and Position Statements

Recording of public and non public court related proceedings
(Under public review)

Discussion

It is currently the practice in many Canadian courts to have court transcribers tape record the court hearing and to then manually transcribe on to paper what was recorded on the court audio tape.  Citizens who are parties to a court proceeding generally do not have access to the audio tapes and can only purchase a copy of the written court transcripts from the court.  Normal procedures do not allow parties in a court proceeding to hear the court audio tapes.  It has been reported that in Quebec, audio tapes are used and sold to parties at a nominal cost.

The Family Justice Review Committee has received a number of legitimate complaints from people who have been in court and who have evidence to show that their transcripts have been lost by the court system or that the written transcripts have been altered to exclude important information that was said in court.  One court reporter from Ontario reported that in her over 25 years experience as a court reporter in the Ontario Courts, she had never lost one tape until the Attorney General's Office of Ontario ended the practice of court reporters keeping their own tapes and started to store the audio tapes in a separate government controlled location out of the control of the court reporters themselves.

Some have advised the Family Justice Review Committee that they believe that court transcripts were altered to remove things that people said in court that may have been helpful in their case or which may have shown that a lawyer or judge acted in a very biased or unprofessional manner. Lawyers with the Law Society of Upper Canada have informed the Family Justice Review Committee that they believe that it is standard practice in many of the courts for the Judges to review the transcripts before they are released and that court reporters have they believe that court transcripts are being altered at the instruction of some judges in order to erase some of the judge's comments made in the court. Some lawyers have reported to us that tran

Other citizens have complained that exchanges between lawyers and the judge have occurred in the court after the judge has instructed the court reporter to stop recording the proceedings. One loving father from Ontario reported that the judge instructed the court reporter to stop recording the proceedings and then the judge went on to tell the lawyer from Ontario's Office of the Children's Lawyer to tell the young boy (the lawyer's client) that the father of the child does not love the boy anymore and that he does not wish to see his son anymore.  At the time that this page was written, the father has not heard from his son in over a year, has no idea of where his son is and no idea of where is some is living or going to school.   The Family Justice Review Committee has videotape interviews of the child and letters in the child's own handwriting (link to letter in pdf format) which show the child reporting that he does not trust his children's lawyer and that he was being lied to and threatened by his children's lawyer and that he wants to see his dad.  The father in this case said that he felt powerless and yet there was conveniently no record of what the judge had said to the child's lawyer while the court was closing down.  The court was closed to the public so that father was denied the help or support of any witnesses in the court.  (Note: A videotape of the child's testimony can be viewed by members of the press who may wish to look into this story by contacting Canada Court Watch by e mail or by phone.)

Many citizens have complained that they cannot afford the high costs of written transcripts and that transcripts for just one day could cost a party $600 to $1000 and that the high cost of obtaining transcripts obstructs their ability to obtain justice in Canadian Courts.  Another complaint which many have is that it takes too long to obtain transcripts.  Citizens have reported that is takes weeks and sometimes months for court reporters to have transcripts ready after they have been ordered.

The Family Justice Review Committee believes that with the current state of the art in audio and video recording that audio and video recordings should be used whenever possible to ensure accountability of the proceedings and to speed the court process up. Current technology would easily allow each and every citizen who is a party to a court proceeding to have almost immediate access to a record of the court proceeding at a much more affordable cost.  The Family Justice Review Committee believes that any technology that will improve improve service and reduce costs should be implemented by the Justice Department without any further delay.

Some of the courts have video equipment in the halls and corridors of the courts to monitor the public to the courts do know that the technology exists and is readily available.  Yet, the court system and the judges are very protective of putting such surveillance equipment in the courtrooms themselves so that what is said by the judges and the court staff is recorded.  The public must ask why.

The Family Justice Review Committee believes that those who act with honesty and integrity in the court should have nothing to hide and should have no objections to audio or video records being kept. Only those who have something to hide will object to the presence of video or audio recordings in the courts.

In the matter of the recording of court proceedings it is the position of the Family Justice Review Committee:

  • That videotaping of court hearings should be permitted under law and that video equipment be set up in each and every courtroom that will accurately and reliably record all activities and conversations of the parties in the courtroom.

  • That videotape equipment should remain active at all times once the court doors have been opened to the parties or to the public and should remain active until the end of the day.

  • That videotapes of the court proceedings be available to all parties in court at a reasonable cost of under $25 per hour of court time and that these be available to parties within 24 hours of their court proceeding.

  • That citizens who are a party to a court hearing should have the right to tape record their own hearings using their own equipment and that the court accommodate parties who wish to tape record their court proceedings. This should be allowed, even if the court has its own equipment active at the same time.

  • That any citizen who appears in any proceeding outside a public court hearing which involves the presence of a judge or arbitrator, including case conferences or settlement conferences, that any citizen who is a party to a court proceeding should be allowed to audiotape the proceeding.

  • That videotapes of court proceedings be provided free of charge by the government to those who were not successful in in court and who also are unable to pay for the videotapes because of economic circumstances.  Under such circumstances, where videotapes may not be available, then the government should provide written transcripts free of charge to those unable to pay.

  • That all security officers posted in the courtroom for security purposes be equipped with shoulder tape recorders which should be active at all times.  Conversations between security officers of the court and any member of the public should be recorded to provide protection for the officers and for members of the public.