Officials Fear Media Could Interfere With Justice

Monday, July 19th, 2010

CHIEF JUSTICE Zaila McCalla has warned that the use of recording devices by
journalists in court could interfere with the course of justice, but she indicates that judges have
discretionary powers to permit the activity.


In responding to a request by the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) to review several
regulations which restrict access by the media to the courts, Chief Justice McCalla pointed to
the “necessity for judges to be vigilant in safeguarding the fairness and integrity of the trial
process”.
This, she advises, includes, but is not limited to, the “risk that a recording could be used for the
purpose of briefing witnesses out of court, and the possibility that the use of a recording device
would disturb the proceedings, distract or worry witnesses or other participants who are fearful.”
The chief justice notes that as managers of their respective courts judges are required to
protect witnesses, jurors and participants in criminal trials from “undue interference”. However,
she points out, in a letter to the PAJ, that the presiding judge of each court has the discretion –
depending on the case being tried- whether to allow audio recording, in addition to the making or
use of any type of recording for the purposes of official transcripts of cases.
The PAJ wrote to Chief Justice McCalla last month asking for a relaxation of restrictions
against using audio recording devices in court as well as the taking of photographs of persons in
the precincts of the court. The restriction related to photography came into sharp focus during the
recent extradition hearing of Christopher “Dudus” Coke at Mobile Reserves headquarters,
Harman Barracks, where police blocked the media from carrying out video and photographic

coverage of proceedings outside the make-shift courthouse.
In her reply, the chief justice states that the prohibition against taking photographs of
persons in and around the courtroom –in accordance with Section 33 of the Criminal Justice
(Administration) Act – as well as similar measures are in furtherance of protecting the integrity
of the trial process.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne has advised the PAJ that its request for
a review of the restrictions cited would require Government taking into “full account not only the
position of your organisation, but the fundamental rights of all the individuals directly concerned,
as well as others who participate in the justice delivery process.”
In a letter to the PAJ, Minister Lightbourne said: “While we understand your concerns,
we have also to be mindful of the several other considerations that ultimately impact the system
of justice in Jamaica.”

Contact: Byron Buckley, President -440 8393

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