The Times, They Are A-Changing: SCC Webcasts are Now Online

On February 9, 2009, the Supreme Court implemented its “Policy for Access to Supreme Court of Canada Court Records.” For Supreme Court enthusiasts, the policy is a truly exciting one: the Court’s website will now provide access to appeal factums (filed on or after February 9, 2009), and, even more monumental, webcasts of its appeal hearings.

To be sure, the factums and webcasts are not without their limitations, and for good reason. Factums containing personal information or information that is subject to a publication ban will be redacted, and to use a factum, its author must be contacted directly. As well, cases subject to a publication ban will not be webcast live, and there are restrictions on the use of webcasts. To obtain permission to use one, you must submit an online request. Further details on these restrictions, permissions, and the SCC site’s new features in general can be found here.

The SCC’s use of webcasts will likely be met with conflicting reactions. On the one hand, the webcasts increase the court’s accessibility to the general public. This will not only encourage Canadians to take an interest in the work of the SCC, but may also provide practical insights into the optics of a Supreme Court proceeding. On the other hand, the ready availability of archived video recordings may result in less candid discussion and more cautious judgments from the court.

With the addition of the webcasts, it is possible that the SCC website will become a destination for the broader public, as well the legal community. However, if viewers expect the excitement of a Law and Order episode, they will likely be disappointed when they find the sober, logic-laden, if somewhat dry, jurisprudence of the Supreme Court. Only time will tell how the webcasts will fare, but the growing online presence of the SCC certainly indicates the court’s commitment to dynamism and transparency.

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