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Greenleaf, Graham --- "Broadcasting court proceedings" [1994] PrivLawPRpr 105; (1994) 1(7) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 135

Broadcasting court proceedings

Access to Justice Advisory Committee - Access to Justice: an Action Plan (May 1994)

The Access to Justice Advisory Committee, Chaired by Ronald Sackville QC, reported to the Commonwealth Minister for Justice on numerous matters, one of which (Chapter 20) is the televising of court proceedings.

The Committee considers that broadcasting court proceedings should be permitted, but ''on a strictly controlled basis'. It recommends that the Federal Court of Australia should consider the establishment of an experimental program to allow the broadcasting of proceedings. It should be established subject to guidelines stipulated by the court. A committee of judges, lawyers and media experts should evaluate the experimental program. However, there should be no broadcasting of proceedings in the Family Court. The broadcasting of tribunal proceedings should be considered after the evaluation of the Federal Court experiment. Broadcasting should not be subject to the consent of the parties.

The Committee recommends that broadcasting guidelines should be included in the rules of court of the Federal Court following public consultation. It recommends the following guidelines for consideration (adopted from the NSW Law Reform Commission's Broadcasting Issues Paper):

The media should apply for approval of media coverage to the Federal Court judge presiding over the proceeding to be covered. This application should be made within a prescribed period prior to the proceeding unless good cause is shown for a later application.

The presiding judge should have a discretion to allow broadcasting and, in particular, should be able to limit, temporarily suspend, or disallow broadcasting, if, in the judge's opinion, such coverage has interfered or will interfere with the rights of the parties to a fair trial and the proper administration of justice.

Media coverage of any court proceeding should be prohibited where, under Commonwealth or State laws, the court proceeding is required to be held in private.

Broadcasting of a particular witness's evidence should take place only if the witness consents.

A party to a proceeding before the Federal Court may object to media coverage, by providing a written objection, within a prescribed period before a proceeding, to the judge presiding over the matter. All objections should be heard and determined by the judge prior to the commencement of the proceedings.

The control of the filming process should be at the absolute discretion of the court. In particular, the quantity and types of equipment and number of personnel permitted in the courtroom is a matter for a determination by the court in accordance with guidelines, for example:

not more than a specified number of television cameras, each operated by not more than a specified number of camera persons, may be permitted in the courtroom during a judicial proceeding;

no close-up photography of judges, parties, witnesses or other court participants should be permitted;

where the above limitations on equipment and personnel make it necessary, the media should be required to pool equipment and personnel (pooling arrangements should be the sole responsibility of the media, and the presiding judge should not be called upon to mediate any dispute as to the appropriate media representatives authorised to cover a particular judicial proceeding); and

equipment should not produce distracting sound or light. No moving lights, flash attachments, or sudden lighting changes shall be permitted during a proceeding. No modification or addition of lighting equipment should be permitted without the permission of the judge.

Where appropriate, the judge should be able to prohibit live broadcasting of proceedings to ensure that sensitive, inadmissible material, for example, the kind of material that the press would currently be prohibited pursuant to a court order from publishing, is not inadvertently broadcast.

It may be appropriate for the court to consider a condition requiring the broadcast of a segment without editorial comment.

We reject the rule that broadcasting should be permitted only with the consent of all parties.


For a detailed study of this issue, see Stepniak ''Why shouldn't Australian court proceedings be televised?' (1994) Vol 17 No 2 University of NSW Law Journal, 345-382

Graham Greenleaf

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