Electronic Devices in Court

In today's video, we're breaking down the pros and cons of a new protocol allowing journalists to use electronic devices to report inside the court room.

Hi, I am Andrew Feldstein of Feldstein Family Law Group.

Starting February 1st, the social media that fills so much of our lives is coming to divorce courts in Ontario.

A new “protocol” from the Superior Court of Justice, Ontario means journalists will generally be allowed to Tweet and blog from inside the courtroom, during family law proceedings.

The general public will still be forbidden to use electronic devices of all kinds inside a courtroom. But journalists can tweet and blog and update their web sites, and this is both good and bad. Here’s the good part.

The concept of the open court is at the heart of the Canadian justice system.

Canadians will understand the law better.

Here’s the bad part.

Family law is generally very personal and often highly emotional.

Is Canada a better place because separation and divorce details are appearing on the smartphones of strangers?

Many journalists look for the sensational and the salacious. My worry is that various blog editors and publications will send to court reporters inexperienced in the family law, and they will miss the important issues, like the judge’s reaction to an unfair marriage contract signed under duress. Instead, they’ll Tweet about the $2600 a month a woman seeking support receives for yoga and Pilates classes, or her $16,395 a month for travel, like we saw recently in Christine and Michael McCain interim support order.

Gossip will overshadow understanding.

Journalists, lawyers and their staffs, and those people representing themselves in a family law case will be allowed to make audio recordings of what is happening in family court.

These recordings are only for note taking purposes, and cannot be broadcast.

The ability to record for note-taking purposes is good.

It makes it much easier for a legal team to review the day’s proceedings. For the self-represented, that’s those without a lawyer, and without the hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars it costs to buy court transcripts of what has just been said, recordings are particularly useful, too.

But imagine a divorcing parent taking home a recording to play to a child caught in the middle of a messy split. “Listen to the mean things daddy’s lawyer said about me” says a mother. And the father will find equaling traumatizing comments to play when it’s his turn to have the kids. The screaming voices, snarly sarcasm, and disdain recorded in the courtroom can harm a child for decades.

Most family law cases don’t attract a lot of publicity now, but that could change easily.

In family law, I can imagine some journalists, especially those writing for sports, entertainment and political blogs, deciding to cover divorce proceedings because they think they can Tweet ‘scandal” and ‘dirty laundry’ linked to a celebrity.

It would be easy to fill a web site without a lot of work if the traditional experience, skills and legal knowledge of reporters covering the court beat can be replaced with a junior who just needs to recognize gossip and type quickly, without adding context and insight based on reporting experience.

Let’s hope judges ensure court orders, publication bans, protection of the identities of children, and personal financial details identity thieves would love to know, are kept off Twitter and the blogs.

When good reporters cover family courts, we all benefit. We cross our fingers that adding the immediacy of electronic devices does not dilute the quality of reporting.

Thank you for taking the time to listen today. Should you require more information and wish to schedule a consultation, please visit our website or contact our office at (905) 581-7222. Thank you.

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