Recording of Court Proceedings Bill 2014 – Bill No. 1/20141608 10 Feb, 2014
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, I know that this Bill is short in content but obviously it has been long in the making. The Hon. Attorney General himself attested from his experience that about 25 years ago he had seen equipment as this contemplated in Guyana in operation in Trinidad and Tobago. Sometimes progress takes a long time, but whenever it arrives I suppose that one has to welcome it because it is intended to make what was cumbersome easier. Therefore this must be a Bill that should be welcomed by all even in its pilot stage. One could be critical and one could probably have foresight and say what is and what should not be in the Bill, but for this moment I believe the introduction of the Bill is a positive step.
Like the learned Attorney General I have been introduced to the court sometime in 1970 or thereabout. It is perhaps a mere coincidence that I was in a court in association with a murder trial that after the court adjourned I walked up to two women that I had seen there and said as I approached them, you seem to have been fixtures in this court; the stenographers. On this occasion I happily saw them with mini micro cassettes. As they were taking their notes they were also recording.
Now that this Bill is before us it may not be a truism that we would do away with all manual recorders. That, of course, reminds me of a point I would like to share, though not in terms of a criticism. I hope the machine would be sustainable because of the erratic customary electricity supply we have, and we would not have an abrupt interference with its functioning in the midst of a trial or of a hearing. [Mr. Hinds: We have stabilisers.] We have stabilisers widely used in the electricity sector but I can point to my equipment in my house that have been damaged by erratic supply of electricity. That is no comfort for those who suffer damages, but that is not the focus of what I want to say here.
I want to say that I have observed, and I hope, as the Attorney General perhaps intended, that all courts would have this equipment after a while. I have seen where judges would take notes. I have seen one very recently and found it very difficult even in reviewing the evidence to read all the notes because it was taken in a hurried way. The point made by my learned friend Mr. Basil Williams is that one needs to observe the demeanour of witnesses and not simply become note takers. If that is all, our magistrate and judges would become as dignified note takers, then the system of justice would suffer from a vital ingredient of our personnel on the bench observing people who would come in to court as litigants or witnesses.
Recording the proceedings in fact is a way of the future. It brought us into the future rather lately. And I go back to my observation as a journalist. When I went to the courts covering many, many trials, I had to take those notes laboriously and fighting a deadline of perhaps an hour or less to go to print. I had to review the volume of notes to get a story. Journalist could also be allowed to access the recordings, perhaps initially not simultaneously, but within a period that would make the reporting contemporaneous, so the journalist can produce better stories and with greater accuracy as to what has transpired in the proceedings.
Also as we veer into the future we would allow the relaxation of the law that excludes journalist from having cameras in the precincts of the court.
I have seen journalists actually surreptitiously or clandestinely trying to take photographs of prisoners and litigants in court because there is a perceived restriction, but it is in the law, that one could not take pictures in the precincts of the court. But that is observed more in the breach than in the letter of the law. Perhaps the learned Attorney General, who has, in fact, introduced quite a few innovations in his stint so far, would think of that; the bringing of, as innovative features in our court system, access of journalists to proceeding. That they should no longer hide to perform their profession.
Not simply in terms of the profession; if that were all I wanted to say then it would not be the whole story. The truth that happens in trial forms an important part of the life of our society. Video and photographic expositions of who is before the courts would be important to tell that truth; to make the story accurate; to make the story graphic. I suppose those will require certain guidelines as to how the courts could be assessed in terms of cameras and how selectively there could be the videoing proceedings and also excerpts of live proceedings in court.
These, in fact, maybe new for Guyana, but they are not unknown in other jurisdictions. If we want to go along the wave of innovation; along the wave of being contemporaneous, then we have to incorporate and include all those measures and features that would make our court, perhaps not friendly from the layman’s point of view, but friendly from the point of view of those of us who have to access the court and work in the system. It is a job at the end of the day, both for those at the bench and at the bar, and for litigants also, who spend their money to litigate cases in the hope that they can receive rewards or justice, whichever is satisfactory for them.
We have to make our court system functionally friendly and functionally efficient. In that regard also I have not let it pass, what the Attorney General spoke about, the air conditioning of the courts. Of course, we are dressed in this inappropriate ways because it is a requirement to dress sometimes in a robe, in addition to just suits and ties and so on and for women the same, with gowns as well and sometimes it is very hot and uncomfortable in court. So that, in addition to having a law, hopefully soon, to permit recording of court proceedings, we have at the same time a better environment in which to function. I think it will aid the process of justice. In the Alliance For Change (AFC) we welcome this piece of legislation. [Applause]
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