I hitched a ride from my son to court one day not too long ago. When I finished court I asked him why he had not come into the court room. Being a polite young fellow, he just assumed he would not be allowed in. In fact he could have come inside to watch the criminal law proceedings. That is a right the public has, so that they can be able to see that justice is done. State courts that forbid access to the public are sorrowfully the rule in many nations where justice is a luxury provided only for the few and just like gas bar mystery meat, no one knows what is inside.
I recall a friend of mine who had retired years back. I met him in Atlantic Place in St. John’s, where the provincial courts are located. He told me he went to court once a week since leaving his job, to ‘catch up’ with it all. And that is fine that he do that. Too many people do not know enough about how our courts run, and they can be left with a false impression about the process. Courts are not usually very exciting places as movies and the like would have you expect. Lawyers raise from their seats to utter dry arguments over some detail or other and the judge usually tells them what the court expects them to do to get the matter dealt with.
First appearances criminal court in no.7 Atlantic Place can get turbulent however. This is where you go Monday morning to watch the poor sods who got arrested and held over the weekend. Disheveled, hung over and suffering from a lack of sleep, they would fight to keep themselves in check as the prosecutor and judge conferred on just what to do with them. Several rows of bench’s reveal the fact that many people may be there any day to watch, to give a change of clothes to, or to jeer at the unhappily assembled. Good clean fun.
After all the courts work for the people, not the other way around. Part of the premise for open courts are the hope that by allowing the public to watch the proceedings, lies and false evidence may be pointed out by someone who was just looking in. That is why a party has to apply for private times in an otherwise open court, because privacy in court should never be assumed.
Too much court cloaking leads to the serious issue of faith, or the lack thereof, in our courtroom system. When a serious trial has stuff kept from public view, that same public may reach their own erroneous conclusions. For me personally I am not a big fan of protecting witness identities. It can be difficult for witnesses to understand, but the trial has as its foremost duty, fairness to the accused. Not the witnesses, but the accused. If it was any other way you would invite the sorry notion of guilt unless proven innocent as you have in those state jurisdiction aforementioned. I hope nobody really wants that.
So for those who are uncertain about whether or not they can watch some court proceedings I say go right ahead. The more people who understand the process then the less ignorance of the system. That would be good for everyone involved. It is everyone’s right, and sometimes I think it should be everyone’s duty.