Policy on Public and Media Access

“Where there is no publicity there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the very spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity.”

Jeremy Bentham
                                                                       

The Federal Court recognizes that both the justice system and the public interest are well-served when media coverage of the courts is accurate, balanced and complete.

Members of the Federal Court and employees of the Courts Administration Service have a duty, consistent with their roles, to assist the media in performing their important role of providing coverage of the Court’s work.

In view of these basic principles, this policy set outs a framework for relations between the Federal Court, the media and the public as a whole.  

The Court is committed to ongoing consultation about this policy with representatives of the media, the bar and others, and to making adjustments in its application with experience.

Responsibilities of Members of the Court

Justices and prothonotaries of the Federal Court are committed to facilitating public and media access to court proceedings and public documents.

Members of the Court generally do not comment on particular cases or their decisions, so they are rarely in a position to speak publicly or grant interviews on these subjects. However, they do take opportunities in appropriate forums to discuss the role of the Court and its members, as well as broader issues, especially those relating to the administration of justice.  Requests for interviews with members of the Court should be presented to the Court’s Executive Officer.

Moreover, the Court may respond if a judge or prothonotary is the subject of an unfounded personal criticism or if information about the Court or a particular judgment or ruling is seriously misstated in media reports.

Responsibilities of Court Officials

On request, officials within the Federal Court Registry, who are employees of the Courts Administration Service, will provide factual information to litigants and others on a variety of subjects, including Court practices, policies, directives and procedures, as well as their own functions and responsibilities as employees. Local Registry contact information is set out in Appendix B.

The Executive Officer to the Chief Justice is the Federal Court’s principal contact for the media, readily available to provide factual information and explanations about the administration of the Court and the legal context of decisions. The Executive Officer makes every effort to respond to enquiries as promptly as possible, but cannot make predictions about, or speculate on, the outcomes of cases.

The Executive Officer may be reached at media-fct@fct-cf.gc.ca or (613) 943-5484.

The Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal

The Federal Court hears and decides legal disputes arising under federal law, including applications for judicial review of decisions of most federal boards, commissions and tribunals.

The Federal Court of Appeal hears and determines appeals from judgments of the Federal Court as well as applications for judicial review of decisions of certain federal boards, commissions, and tribunals (see www.fca-caf.gc.ca/about/jurisdiction/jurisdiction_e.shtml).

Note: Media enquiries about the Federal Court of Appeal should be directed to the Executive Officer to the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal at: media-fca@fca-caf.gc.ca or (613) 995-5063.

The Open Court Principle

The general rule in Canada is that court hearings are open to the public and may be reported in full.

At the same time, however, courts also have significant common law and statutory powers to ensure that proceedings are conducted fairly and to protect the integrity of the courts’ processes.

Public and Media Access to the Federal Court

Hearings of the Federal Court, other than pre-trial or dispute resolution conferences, are generally open and accessible to the public and media, as are documents filed in Court. Specific exceptions relate to sealing orders, notably regarding commercial secrets in intellectual property cases, personal information in refugee cases; there are also certain statutory restrictions, such as those that apply in national security cases under the Canada Evidence Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.

General sitting days of the Federal Court for the hearing of motions are Tuesday and Thursday in Ottawa, Monday in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and on dates set by the Chief Justice in other locations. Refer to the following page on the Court’s website for further details:
http://cas-ncr-nter03.cas-satj.gc.ca/portal/page/portal/fc_cf_en/Motions_Hearings

On Court premises, members of the public and media are requested to go about their business with the safety and dignity of the people coming and going uppermost in mind. Seating space in the courtroom is sometimes limited. For security purposes, Court personnel will take into account the size of the courtroom when admitting the public and media to Court proceedings. Standing during a proceeding is not permitted.

For the purpose of note-taking or electronic communication, laptop computers, Blackberries and similar devices are generally permitted in court provided they do not cause any disturbance to the proceedings. This applies to members of the media, counsel and members of the public.

Communications devices, such as cell phones, pagers and similar devices, are permitted in court provided they are set on silent mode and never used for voice communication.

Recording and Photographing Court Proceedings

Members of the media holding valid credentials may tape-record proceedings to verify their notes of what was said and done in court, but not for broadcast. Others (i.e., counsel or members of the public) must seek permission of the presiding judge; requests should be directed to the Court personnel or commissionaires.

In most of its proceedings, the Federal Court acts as a court of judicial review, without witnesses and under rules similar to those applicable to appeal courts. If written notice has been given within a reasonable time, the Court will generally grant requests to record (audio or video) or photograph judicial review proceedings for publication or broadcast.

Requests related to specific proceedings before the Court require permission of the Chief Justice, who will consult with the presiding judge. If a request is approved, the Executive Officer will work out the logistics.

Guidelines for electronic media coverage are set out in Appendix A.

Requests to conduct interviews on Court premises, or to record or photograph Court facilities, should be directed to the Executive Officer.

Media Access to Court Documents

As a general rule, all Court documents are a matter of public record unless a legislative provision or Court order prohibits public access.

However, upon request of a litigant, the Court may order that certain material be sealed in order to protect the confidentiality of personal or corporate information. Before a sealing order is made, an applicant must show to the Court’s satisfaction that confidentiality is warranted, notwithstanding the Court’s general preference for, and the public interest in, open and accessible court proceedings.

Publication bans

Members of the media have standing to be heard and to raise objections in open court when a party requests that a judge impose a non-statutory ban (Dagenais v. Canadian Broadcasting Corp., [1994] 3 S.C.R. 835). In the exercise of their common law or discretionary authority to impose publication bans, judges must weigh all competing Charter rights (e.g., freedom of expression, right to a fair trial) and only impose the minimal ban necessary to protect fundamental rights.

Non-statutory publication bans are rarely sought or imposed in Federal Court proceedings. However, if counsel make a motion for a publication ban, the motion will appear in the Court Index and Docket on the Court’s Web site. Media representatives interested in a particular case are encouraged to follow proceedings closely through the Court Index and Docket. When a motion is filed, they will have an opportunity to challenge it in court.

Electronic access to documents and information

The Court seeks to use the best technology to make documents available on-line through its website at www.fct-cf.gc.ca The schedule of Federal Court hearings is published on the Hearing List page.

At Court Index and Docket, the Federal Court case index may be searched and individual case information (the "case history") viewed, including a record of each document filed in Court.

The Court Index and Docket sets out a summary of each decision once it is issued. If formal reasons for decision are also issued, they are posted at the Decisions page within a few days after the decision is signed.

The Court provides two subscription services for Court decisions:

1.  Federal Court Bulletins

By sending a blank message to with the words "media subscription" in the subject line, anyone may register to be sent Federal Court Bulletins. The bulletins provide notice of Court decisions for which there is special media interest, as well as other Court news such as judicial appointments or retirements. This service may also be set up through the website, via the orange RSS button on the Home Page.

2.  Decision Subscription

By going to Mailing List on the website (http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/site/fc-cf/en/l.do), anyone may register at https://lists.lexum.org/mailman/listinfo/fctcf to be sent e-mail notices of all reasons for decision of the Federal Court when they are posted on the site.

Copies of Court Documents

The Courts Administration Service provides registry and administrative services to the Federal Court. All original court files are maintained in the principal office of the Registry in Ottawa, but certified copies of all documents on particular files are maintained in local offices in St. John’s, Charlottetown, Halifax, Saint John, Fredericton, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Iqaluit and Yellowknife.

Documents may be viewed or obtained in person, or requested by fax from local Registry offices. The fee for hard copies is set by the Federal Courts Rules (currently $0.40 per page). There is no fee charged if the individual viewing the file makes copies using his or her own portable copier, digital camera or hand-held scanning device. However, in that case, no documents secured or fastened on the file may be removed from the file, nor can the spiral or other binding (e.g., plastic Cerlox binding) be removed and then rebound.  Documents may be viewed in a designated area and are not to be removed from the premises under any circumstances

Addresses and telephone numbers of Registry offices are provided in Appendix B.

Some Federal Court hearings require the attendance of a stenographer, who makes a written record of the proceedings. If a stenographer is present, this will be noted in the Court's docket entry for the file, available at Court Index and Docket. If available, transcripts may be purchased directly from the external court reporter listed in the docket entry.


Appendix A

Guidelines

Electronic Media Coverage of Federal Court Proceedings

1. General

a.         With reasonable advance notice in writing to the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the media may make an application for electronic media coverage of judicial review proceedings.

b.         The Chief Justice will consult with the judge hearing the proceeding and counsel for the parties.

c.         The Chief Justice or the presiding judge may at any time impose conditions on, or terminate, media coverage to protect the rights of the parties; to preserve the dignity of the Court; to assure the orderly conduct of the proceedings; or for any other reason considered necessary or appropriate in the best interest of justice.

d.         No direct public expense is to be incurred for equipment, wiring or personnel needed to provide media coverage. 

e.         There shall be no audio pickup or broadcast of conferences which occur in a court facility between counsel and their clients, between co‑counsel of a client, or between counsel and the Court held at the bench.

2.  Equipment and Personnel

a.         Unless otherwise permitted, electronic media coverage is to be limited to:

    i.          two portable television cameras, each operated by one camera person;
    ii.          one still photographer;
    iii.         one audio system using existing court audio systems or unobtrusive microphones and wiring.
b.         If two or more media representatives apply to cover a proceeding, their representatives are expected to agree upon a pooling arrangement, including designation of pool operators, procedures for cost sharing, access to and dissemination of material, and a pool representative.

c.         The media must show that they will use only equipment that does not produce distracting sound or light, or use flash attachments, other artificial light sources, signal lights or devices indicating that it is activated.

d.         The presiding judge may specify the location of equipment in the courtroom and require modification of light sources at media expense.

e.         Media personnel are expected to place, replace, move or remove equipment, or change film, film magazines or lenses before court proceedings, after adjournment or during recesses.

3.  Use of Materials

Within 10 days of publication or broadcast of any material generated through electronic media coverage, media are to provide the Court with a copy.


Appendix B

Courts Administration Service

Addresses and Telephone Numbers of Federal Court Registry Offices

National Capital Region

Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building
90 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H9
Telephone:  613-992-4238
Fax: 613-952-3653

 

Alberta

Calgary
635 Eighth Avenue S.W.
3rd Floor
T2P 3M3
Telephone: 403-292-5920
Fax: 403-292-5329

Edmonton
Scotia Place, Tower 1, Suite 530
P.O. Box 51
10060 Jasper Avenue T5J 3R8
Telephone: 780-495-4651
Fax: 780-495-4681

British Columbia

Vancouver
Pacific Centre
P.O. Box 10065
701 West Georgia Street
V7Y 1B6
Telephone:  604-666-3232
Fax: 604-666-8181

                                                               Manitoba                                             

Winnipeg
363 Broadway Street
4th floor
R3C 3N9
Telephone:  204-983-2509
Fax: 204-983-7636

New-Brunswick

Fredericton
82 Westmorland Street
Room 100
E3B 3L3
Telephone: 506-452-3016
Fax: 506-452-3584

Nova Scotia

Halifax
1801 Hollis Street
Room 1720
B3J 3N4
Telephone: 902-426-3282
Fax: 902-426-5514

Ontario

Toronto
180 Queen Street West
2nd floor
M5V 3L6
Telephone: 416-973-3356
Fax: 416-954-5068

Québec

Montréal
30 McGill Street
H2Y 3Z7
Telephone: 514-283-4820
Fax: 514-283-6004

Québec
Palais de Justice
Room 500A and 500E,
300 Jean Lesage Blvd.
G1K 8K6
Telephone: 418-648-4920
Fax: 418-648-4051

The Federal Court has established partnerships with provincial and territorial courts in the following locations for the receipt and filing of court documents, and the use of courtrooms where possible.  Contact telephone numbers are as follows:

St. John's, NL            709-772-2884
Charlottetown, PEI     902-368-0179
Saint John, NB           506-636-4990
Regina, SK                 306-780-5268
Saskatoon, SK           306-975-4509
Whitehorse, YT          867-667-5441
Yellowknife, NT         867-873-2044
Iqaluit, NU                 867-975-6100


Sources

Canadian Courts

Resources for Media, Supreme Court of Canada, at www.scc-csc.gc.ca

The Canadian Justice System and the Media, Canadian Judicial Council, November 2007

“Setting the Record Straight”, Appendix to The Judicial Role in Public Information, Canadian Judicial Council, September 1999

Panel on Justice and the Media, Report to the Attorney General of Ontario, August 2006

The Open Courts Principle and the Internet, paper by Marc-Aurèle Racicot, University of Alberta

Access to Court Information [With Particular Reference to PEI], by Gerard E. Mitchell, Chief Justice of Prince Edward Island, December 2005

Guidelines for Media and Public Access to the Courts of Nova Scotia, March 1, 2003 at www.courts.ns.ca

Court Policies/Practices Affecting Media Coverage, October 19, 2007 at www.manitobacourts.mb.ca

Audio Recording Policy, November 2008 at www.albertacourts.ab.ca

Publication Ban Notification Project, at www.courts.gov.bc.ca

Practice Direction Re: Media Notification of Applications in Criminal Matters - Pilot Project in the Vancouver Registry

Other jurisdictions

Media Guide for Reporting the Courts, Minister of Justice, New Zealand (undated)

Media Guidelines for Cameras and Audio Equipment in the Courtroom,
Hawaii State Judiciary www.courts.state.hi.us

Film or Electronic Media Coverage of Court Proceedings, Administrative Order 1989-1 Michigan Supreme Court

Media Information Packet, Clark County, Nevada at www.accessclarkcounty.com/

Media Guide to Washington State Courts, 2009 at /www.courts.wa.gov/
Media Qualifications and Guidelines, United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, at www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/home/

Other

Jeremy Bentham, Rationale of Judicial Evidence, ed. John Stuart Mill (1827), Bowring, VI: 355.  Also see Constitutional Code, Book II, chapter 12, Section 14, Art. 1 (Bowring, IX: 493)

Media Relations Policy, report for Human Resources Development Canada, Dennis Orchard, May 2004

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Date Modified: 2013-08-20