Mon | Oct 21, 2019

Chuck, PAJ discuss law forbidding taking photos in court

Published:Friday | September 27, 2019 | 3:47 PM
File photo

The Legal Reform Department in the Ministry of Justice is to collaborate with the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) in preparing a submission to Cabinet that will guide talks around a possible repeal of the law that prohibits the photographing or sketching of prisoners in court, or in the precincts of the premises.

Portfolio Minister Delroy Chuck gave the commitment on Thursday during a meeting with PAJ executive members at his Kingston office.

The PAJ recently called for the law to be repealed after parliament passed the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act, which increases the fine associated with the offence from $20 to one million dollars and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.

During the meeting, PAJ says its president George Davis told Chuck that the particular section of the Act was outdated at a time when live streaming of court proceedings takes place in other jurisdictions and is set to commence in Jamaica.

According to the PAJ, the law unduly restricts press freedom without a commensurate benefit to the administration of justice or the society.

According to Davis, the law is inconsistent with constitutional provisions that guarantee free access to information, freedom of expression and require court proceedings to be held in public.

Acknowledging the sensitivity of some cases, including those involving children or which raise security concerns, the PAJ say it noted that rules are necessary to ensure court proceedings are not disrupted and persons, including those accused of crimes, are not unduly prejudiced.

The PAJ said it suggested at the meeting that any legislation to replace the old law should be based on a presumption that citizens, including members of the media, have a general right to take photographs or make sketches of accused persons.

The PAJ recommended that stakeholders be consulted in the development of a protocol to ensure judges retain control of the courts and exercise discretion to prevent photographs or sketches only in appropriate cases.    

The PAJ says Chuck, in response, affirmed his support for press freedom and the independence of the judiciary.

He emphasised that while the press must have the latitude to work, nothing must be done to impinge upon the ability of judges to control processes inside the courtroom and within the precincts of the courts.

Speaking after the meeting, the PAJ President said, “The discussion with Minister Chuck was frank and robust. The Press Association of Jamaica looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the hope of influencing reform of the law.”

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