Public secrets not all locked

Without openness in our justice system we are not, and cannot be, a truly democratic society.

To the editor,

Tim Bousquet was spot-on about the importance of transparency and public access to government records in last week's cover feature, "Public secrets." The challenge is balancing individual privacy rights with the public's right to know.

As the court administrator of Halifax Provincial Court on Spring Garden Road, I was sorry to read about Tim's difficulty in obtaining information about criminal court records. Any individual, whether they are a journalist or not, can walk into the Spring Garden Road courthouse, or any other courthouse in the province, and request court staff to provide information about a criminal proceeding. On a daily basis court dockets are posted. The dockets list names of the adult accused and charges being faced. All daytime and nighttime trials are open to the public, and if desired, anyone can order and purchase a CD of court proceedings. In the courthouse we have a media room from which reporters can file copy.

I know court staff are hard-working and truly see themselves as public servants. In serving the public, we continually balance openness and transparency with privacy rights of individuals.

In Canada, all criminal cases, except when publication bans are ordered or other legislation restrictions apply (i.e. young person files), are open to the pubic. Only through the openness of our courts can timely public access exist and enable accurate print, radio and television media coverage. Only through accurate and timely reporting of judicial proceedings can we ensure that the public knows what is happening in our criminal courts. This ensures that the judicial system does its job properly. Without openness in our justice system we are not, and cannot be, a truly democratic society.

---Peter E. James, court administrator,

Halifax Provincial Court

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