Thu | Oct 17, 2019

PAJ joins calls for repeal of law forbidding photography in court

Published:Friday | September 20, 2019 | 10:26 AM
PAJ president, George Davis - File photo

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) has joined the Media Association of Jamaica in its call for the repeal of section 33 of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, which prohibits photographing or sketching prisoners in court, or in the precincts of the court.

Parliament has just passed the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties ) Act, which increases the fine associated with the offence from $20 to one million dollars and the possible imprisonment in default of payment from one month to a year.

“It is true that the law has been on the books for years,” said PAJ President George Davis in a statement.

“But our call comes following renewed scrutiny after Parliament’s draconian increase in the fine and possible prison time associated with the offence. We do not believe in 2019 , that this law serves a useful purpose, and it is actually inimical to freedom of the press,” Davis added.

He argued that research into similar laws in other jurisdictions indicates that rationales for the existence of the legislations include the wish to protect convicted persons from publicity at a time when they may be in distress, to prevent  further publication of the identity of an accused person who may later be found not guilty, to maintain order in the precincts of the court and to ensure smooth administration of justice.

Davis said the PAJ does not believe any of those reasons is sufficient in contemporary Jamaica for a blanket ban of the type that now exists.

“The situation has to be looked at in the round. Photographs of defendants are now routinely published once charges have been laid. There is no meaningful additional  protection given to defendants by the law as it stands. In addition, photographs can be taken as the accused person is entering the courthouse gate, or indeed, with long range telephoto lens, even as they are entering the court.”

“The right thing to do is to modernise the law. Concerns that exist  can be dealt with on a case by case basis, given the power of the court to make orders.  Repealing the outdated provision can only enhance Jamaica’s sterling reputation as a bastion of press freedom. We recognise that children are an especially vulnerable group, and note the prohibition under section 45 of the Child Care and Protection Act on publishing any identifying details of children involved in any Children’s Court  proceedings, including a ban on publishing their photographs.”

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