January 29, 2019

Federal Court to Begin Webcast Pilot Project

Federal Court hearings of significant public interest will soon be available to view in a webcast thanks to a new pilot project starting this week. Interesting and important cases are to be streamed through an app called Zoom. Participants can log on and watch a live feed of what is happening in Court.

The webcast pilot project arose out of the Court’s Strategic Plan (2014-2019) in combination with the Court’s Policy on Public and Media Access. In the Media Policy, the Court reinforces Canada’s open court principle, which states that “court hearings are open to the public and may be reported in full”. There are exceptions of course, including cases involving publication bans. But if the Federal Court keeps up the project and decides to stream all important cases, it could be both a great learning opportunity for budding lawyers and a chance to encourage court transparency.

The first case in this project is a five day trial beginning this week on Monday, January 28. The case, which will be heard this week in Vancouver, deals with tax laws and provisions surrounding the collection and disclosure of taxpayer information to the United States. It will be streamed through the Zoom webcast.

The Supreme Court already has a similar webcast system where you can watch hearings live. Other jurisdictions including British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland have also tried out some sort of streaming service. Saskatchewan Court of Appeal’s Chief Justice Richards has expressed support for such a project in his home province.

Cameras in the courtroom have been a hotly contested topic, with detractors saying that the extra attention may cause counsel, juries or witnesses to change their behaviour. Others say that cameras ensure that everyone in the courtroom is on their best behaviour. Regardless, video streaming seems to be the next logical step in implementing technology to open up the courts.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.