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The Globe and Mail

Manitoba to sell CDs of court proceedings

Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail, various newspapers, Sept. 6, 2004

Winnipeg — They are not likely to hit the Top 40 charts, but compact disc recordings of courtroom proceedings will soon be available for Manitobans to buy and listen to in their home or office.

The Justice Department is upgrading its recording system from analog cassette tapes to digital devices, and for the first time, is also planning to make copies available to the general public.

“Certainly it will allow for another level of accessibility to individuals,” Barb Boyko, the director of operations for courts in Winnipeg, said in an interview.

“We anticipate providing the service of selling compact discs to members of the public. They would be able to come in and purchase them and then play them back at their own convenience.”

Manitoba and other provinces already provide written transcripts of court hearings, but audio recordings are rare.

Ontario does not provide such recordings, British Columbia courts will only do so under a judge's order, and some courts in Nova Scotia will provide cassette tapes of courtroom proceedings four to six weeks after receiving written requests.

High-quality digital recordings may prove a help to reporters, according to Ron Friesen, president of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

“You might be able to pick up the mood in the courtroom. You know, is the witness crying, is the prosecutor yelling – something like that to add colour to the story,” Mr. Friesen said.

He cautioned that fees for the service, which have yet to be determined, must not be too high.

Currently in Manitoba, members of the public can make an appointment to listen to a cassette tape of court proceedings but cannot leave the courthouse with the cassette or make a copy.

The new technology will greatly improve sound quality and make it practical to produce copies, Ms. Boyko said.

The province is also hoping to set up the system so that the audio will be available on a computer network within the Justice Department. Staff would be able to listen to courtroom proceedings live as they are recorded. Judges and court workers would also be able to access an archive of recordings and listen to them on their computers.

The courts will continue to provide written transcripts, but Ms. Boyko said lawyers and others may appreciate also having the audio recordings.

While high-profile court cases always attract curious members of the public, it remains to be seen how many people would buy CDs of trials that can sometimes drag on for weeks or months.

“I'm really not certain,” Ms. Boyko said.

“I think it's one of those things that we'll have to just wait and see just how well accepted it is.”

The recordings would be subject to existing court restrictions and laws. They would not be available for child protection cases or proceedings involving young offenders, where identities are protected.

And the recordings could not be played on radio, TV or the Internet – Canadian law prohibits the broadcasting of courtroom proceedings.

The Justice Department is currently looking for companies to develop and install the new digital system. It hopes to eventually have digital recording in all 82 courtrooms across Manitoba.

2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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