Attorney General Chris Bentley says that responsibility has to start with the judiciary and needs to include dialogue about how much information is made available outside of the courtroom. With Facebook and Twitter, information that would normally be protected can spread quickly.
Many provinces are currently trying to decipher just how they can keep their courtrooms as open environments without compromising security or the integrity of the particular case.
“That’s a very important discussion and one we have to get right,” Bentley said of the role of social media. “Because if we allow social media in for different reasons and then the limits placed on it are not respected, we can’t protect the interests that need to be protected. The inevitable result will be that we go back into a much more closed situation.”
A big part of why Bentley is talking about the issue is because of the way information was spread during the case of convicted killer Russell Williams. Twitter and Facebook were inundated with details about the crimes of Williams, with graphic descriptions making their way out into the general public with relative ease. Journalists covering the trial were permitted to bring their laptops into the court room. Cell phones and audio equipment were also allowed.
Now this, of course, draws up some interesting questions about the media transparency of such a trial.
The debate sparked by Bentley aims to ask whether there should be regulations about social media and high-profile cases, although one has to wonder how such rules could be implemented on a free and open network. Still, it’s clear that something needs to be addressed in meaningful fashion.
“The public interest is not served by where they don’t properly understand court proceedings and they don’t understand why a certain verdict or certain sentence emanates from the court, because they haven’t been given enough information to make a decision for themselves,” Michael Edelson, Williams’ lawyer, said.
The potential for trouble is considerable in jury trials, too. Jurors are getting information from sources that used to be off-limits. Some information is still considered off-limits, sure, but experts say that jurors still tend to “Google” crime details even when sequestered.
As an interesting addendum, Bentley also spoke recently about the “archaic” court system in Ontario.