Journalists fight mobile device prohibition in court

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The Judicial Press Corps has called on the Judicial Service to review its prohibition of electronic devices in court during proceedings.

A circular signed by Judicial Secretary Justice Alex B. Poku-Acheampong on Tuesday, 3 July 2018 said it had come to their attention that some court users make and receive calls and record court proceedings with their mobile phones, electronic devices, recorders, tablets and cameras while court is in session.

To regulate the use of the devices, the service directed that: “Court users are to put off their mobile phones, electronic devices, recorders, tablets and cameras before they enter the courtroom.

“Court users are not allowed to use electronic devices, mobile phones, recorders, tablets and cameras to record or snap court proceedings or any court document without the permission of the Judicial Secretary.”

Responding to the directive, JPC, in a statement, said the move is a departure from the Chief Justice’s call for the judiciary to embrace technology.

Members of JPC also believe the directive is an attempt to get back at its members after they petitioned the Chief Justice over how a magistrate ceased the mobile phones of some journalists during a court sitting a few weeks ago.

JPC said it believes with modernisation, technology cannot be ignored in the justice delivery system.

Read JPC’s full statement below:

RE: PROHIBITION OF USE OF MOBILE PHONES, ELECTRONIC, DEVICES, RECORDERS, TABLETS, CAMERAS IN THE COURT ROOM

The Judicial Press Corps has noted with concern a circular signed by the Judicial Secretary, Justice Alex B. Opoku Acheampong outlining a series of measures users of Ghana’s courts.

While committing to abide by the directive, we deem it necessary to make some few observations particularly considering the timing of this release.

It is important to state that the release comes at a time when the press corps had petitioned the Chief Justice to address how one Magistrate treated some journalists who were covering a case in her court. We must respectfully remind Her Ladyship that we are yet to receive an official response from her outfit forcing a good number of our members to assume the circular is the response, not addressed to us, but to “deal with us.”

We do respect the desire of Judicial Secretary to ensure that the work of the courts is not interfered with phone calls as well as the broadcast of hearings, via live transmission, recording proceedings. We want to, however, state unequivocally that at no point has any member of our group used a recorder or camera during proceedings.

As court reporters well-versed in the rules of the court, we have gone a step further to reprimand and even in some instances sanction members who secretly take pictures of court documents and proceed to publish them without permission.

That notwithstanding, a wholesale ban on the use of electronic devices which includes mobile phones is mind-boggling. Not too long ago, the Learned C.J was joined by H.E Dr. Mahmoud Bawumia at the Law Courts Complex to launch the case tracking system. Speaker after speaker underscored the need for Judiciary to modernise and embrace technology. We ask then, what could be more of a departure from those calls than any directive that bans a journalist that works mostly in automated ways from merely taking notes electronically? Especially when that does not disturb the courts?

How about the lawyers who may well want to modernise as the Chief Justice had said by merely coming to court not with books they ask their juniors to carry, but rather with tablets and phones that host them electronically?

We have no intention of using such gadgets in a manner that distracts court proceedings but maintain any such blanket ban that does not consider the above submission is a departure from the C.J’s call for the judiciary to embrace technology.

We, therefore, wish to call on the Judicial Secretary to quickly take a second look at the directive and arrive at the conclusion that we think is the way to go.

The enemy is not the journalist that wants the world to know what goes on in court or the lawyer who keeps his books on his phone; the enemy must be anything that does not fall in line with the C.J’s call for the Judiciary to embrace technology.

The goal must be to make Justice delivery fast through all means. And we dare say, technology cannot be ignored.

We humbly submit.

Signed

Wilberforce Asare
Dean, Press Corps

Fred T. Djabanor
Vice Dean, Press Corps