Court Reporting: Principles
Citizens have the right to know how the State is discharging its responsibility to enforce the law and help suppress crime. Citizens have an interest in knowing how safe their environment is. Our mission to serve the public interest includes rigorous scrutiny of the work of police and courts. In doing so we help ensure the openness on which the legitimacy of these institutions rests.
Court Reporting - Constraints imposed by law
We take care not to compromise the proper course of ongoing or potential legal proceedings and to take into account the presumption of innocence enjoyed by every person accused of a crime.
In many situations the law imposes restrictions such as publication bans, sealing of documents and closed-door proceedings. Such orders are sometimes automatic or sometimes issued in the course of a proceeding. Reporters have a duty to inform themselves of the existence and nature of these orders and to understand their scope.
A decision to challenge a court order must be referred to the Director, in consultation with the Law Department.
Identification of persons involved in legal proceedings
Before charges are laid, we carefully weigh the public interest against the consequences to a reputation before disclosing the identity of a suspect in a police investigation. In assessing the public interest, we consider the importance of contributing to openness in the administration of justice, in particular when a suspect is arrested, when a search warrant is executed or in the course of any other court proceeding. A decision to publish the identity of a suspect at this stage is referred to the Managing Editor.
If we disclose the identity of a suspect, we strive to follow the investigation and report on its outcome, especially if the investigation ends with no charges laid against the person previously identified.
Parties in a case:
In principle, and unless forbidden by law, identification of persons involved in a case (accused, party in a civil case, witness, attorney, judge) contributes to the openness of legal proceedings and serves the public interest. In some circumstances we will be required by law or court order to refrain, at least for a time, from publishing the name or identity of certain persons involved. We might also choose not to publish the name of an especially vulnerable person involved if his or her identify is not essential to an understanding of the facts.
The victim of a crime is generally named in the charge laid and this information is public. Prior to charges being laid, we may choose to publish the name or otherwise identify a crime victim, even though the information is not yet of a public nature. We may do so if it is in the public interest, or if the victim is dead or is considered a missing person by the authorities (for instance an Amber Alert) or with the consent of the victim, or of their parents if the crime victim is a child. (See «Children involved in a case».)
The law or a court order may, in certain circumstances, ban the publication of any information that could identify a victim, a witness or even an accused. This is generally the case for victims of sex crimes. It is also the case for young accused under the special provisions applicable to crimes committed by young offenders, for their young victims and for young witnesses in the case. In reporting on cases where a party must not be identified, we will ensure that no information is disclosed that would allow identification by deduction (indirect identification).
Children involved in a case:
When children are involved in a legal proceeding as witnesses or as victims of an adult accused and their anonymity is not required by law or court order, we do not seek to interview them unless the parents give consent. We avoid revealing their identity if that is not required to understand the facts of the case or the testimony given.
Fair treatment and reporting of outcome
When we cover a legal proceeding, we are aware of the importance of reporting its outcome and we treat the persons concerned with dignity. Rigour in coverage requires that we report fairly on the evidence and the claims of all the parties and give significant play to the verdict. The verdict must be accessible to users of CBC.ca or Radio-Canada.ca who consult archival material identifying an accused.
If we invite audience comment on news from legal proceedings, we ensure that the comments published will not compromise due process.
Release of persons convicted of sex crimes or violent crimes
Persons convicted of pedophilia or other crimes of a sexual or violent nature have a right to rehabilitation.
We report on criminal records after carefully assessing the relevance of publishing this information. We consider the specific situation and assess risk to the safety of others against society’s interest in facilitating the convicted person’s return to society at the end of his or her sentence.
Before identifying a person released after conviction for a crime of a sexual or violent nature or reporting information on his or her place of residence or place of work, we refer the decision to the Director.
Interviews with criminals
Interviews with persons who have been convicted of a crime or who have confessed to a crime must be justified editorially with due regard to the risk of contributing to the glorification of criminal behaviour.
Any proposal to interview a criminal about the circumstances of their crime requires approval by the Director.
Respect for the suffering of victims and their family
In approaching victims or witnesses of tragic events, we carefully weigh both the public interest of full reporting and the need to show compassion and restraint. In such situations we are considerate and we use judgment.
We take care not to exert undue pressure on a distressed person for an interview.
When images or audio clips could upset part of the audience, we choose them carefully. We limit their use to what is necessary for an understanding of the subject and we provide an audience advisory before use on any of our platforms.