Goffe wants NIDS challenge among cases streamed live

But rights advocate urges court to protect vulnerable witnesses

Thursday, May 24, 2018

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HUMAN rights advocate Susan Goffe says Government's move to implement live streaming of select criminal and civil court proceedings is a step in the right direction, especially for cases that are of particular national interest.

“There are certain obvious cases which immediately stand out as cases that the public would have an interest in and those would be suitable cases for live streaming (such as) the upcoming constitutional challenge regarding the NIDS (National Identification System) Bill. That would be of great benefit to the broader public to be able to hear the arguments that are put on both sides regarding that matter,” Goffe told the Jamaica Observer.

“Anything that brings greater levels of transparency through the workings of the justice system is a benefit to the wider public. It is a move along the lines of what already exists (open court) and it would make it possible for a larger number of people who wouldn't be able to attend court to be able to follow the workings of the court and to gain a better understanding of how the court system operates,” Goffe said.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, in his contribution to the 2018/19 sectoral debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, reiterated that live streaming is on the way. He initially made the announcement earlier this month at the opening of the Port Maria Justice Centre in St Mary.

“In a greater push for transparency and accountability and in a move designed to increase public trust and confidence in the justice system, the people of Jamaica will be able to witness, live and direct, in living colour, proceedings in our courts. Live streaming will of course be subject to a proper protocol which will be established by the chief justice and facilitated at the discretion of the presiding judge,” Chuck stated.

Goffee noted that some cases would not be suitable for broadcast such as those that are held in camera for reasons having to do with sensitivity and security. “Those will obviously continue to operate (like that). There would also be the situation in which a judge would require some part of an ongoing case not to be broadcast and that obviously would be sensible protection,” she said.

A number of attorneys have also welcomed the move, which they feel will serve to provide ordinary citizens with insight into the workings of the justice system.

Goffe noted, however, that the authorities should proceed with special attention paid to vulnerable witnesses. “There may be vulnerable witnesses who may feel a certain intimidation towards testifying where there is a live stream and some consideration needs to be taken in that regard because you would not want to have people who are witnesses being afraid to give testimony with the live streaming. Some people say it is already open court, but this would be a broader range of viewership and it might increase some people's fear about giving testimony,” she stated.

Meanwhile, the justice minister on Tuesday pointed to what he said was significant progress made in the installation of hardware in 78 courtrooms across the island, to enable the use of digital audio recording and video link technology. He said that in addition to this technology enabling judges to be more efficient and effective in the administration of justice, it will also benefit vulnerable witnesses who will no longer be forced to give evidence in the presence of offenders.

“These witnesses will now be able to give their evidence from a remote location. That is a great victory for witness safety and the integrity of the justice system,” Chuck said.

The European Union is funding the project at a cost of €1.79 million.

— Alphea Saunders

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