Judges in talks about in-court security cams

Christchurch judges are in talks with the Ministry of Justice about in-court video cameras recording all the proceedings at the new Justice and Emergency Services Precinct.

The judges raised the issue with the Ministry after the Precinct was opened for general court business on November 20.

The issues led to a court sitting being halted for 30 minutes by a District Court judge.

It is now common for court proceedings to be voice-recorded and to be videoed for links with other courts or prisons, but judges pointed out last week that closed-circuit television cameras had also been installed in the courts at the new Precinct.

They took up the issue with the Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue.

She said: “Each courtroom is the province of the presiding judge. Therefore, it is important that judges are given advance opportunity to gain a good understanding of new or additional technology, and to consider any implications it may have for the delivery of justice in what is a sensitive setting.”

Judge Doogue said that generally, video-recording technology was not new in court. “Voice recordings have long been in use and are important for keeping accurate records of judicial decisions.”

On Wednesday morning last week, Christchurch District Court Judge Alistair Garland adjourned his judge-alone trial session in Court 5 until he received more information about a CCTV camera in the courtroom.

The Ministry’s General Manager of Health, Safety and Security, Melissa Gill, issued a statement after that delay, saying: “On behalf of the Ministry of Justice, I want to apologise to Judge Garland and court users for any inconvenience caused by this morning’s 30-minute adjournment.

“For the health and safety of everyone who works in or visits the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct, CCTV cameras have been installed throughout the facility. The Ministry does not publicly disclose the detail of its security arrangements.”

It is believed that Judge Garland was concerned that the security camera coverage could view what the judge was working on at his bench.

Judge Doogue said this week that Judge Garland had received the information he wanted about the closed-circuit television and then resumed the court.

She said: “I had raised some matters about the use of CCTV cameras in Christchurch with the Ministry of Justice when the cameras’ installation was pointed out to me by local judges shortly before last Wednesday’s events.

“Since then I have been assured that remaining issues around the appropriate use of CCTV in courtrooms will be further explored with the judiciary.

“Comment on the current status of any security measures inside the District Court is a matter for the ministry,” said Judge Doogue.

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