Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Criminal

All municipalities 'should embrace' media alert on verdicts

A recent directive that requires Toronto judges to alert the media when a jury is about to come back with a verdict will benefit the general public, Toronto criminal lawyer Melody Izadi tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“The public needs to be fully informed about what is going on in our courtrooms, especially when verdicts are released in high-profile cases,” says Izadi, an associate with Caramanna, Friedberg LLP.

The new directive replaces a judicial policy that allowed a trial judge to decide if the media was to be notified, a Toronto Star story states. Without this notification, reporters either sat outside the courtroom to wait for the verdict or relied on tips from lawyers or the police in order to make it to the court in the 15 minutes it typically takes to reconvene.

While welcoming the new directive, Izadi says she can also understand why the old policy was in place.

“The delivery of the verdict is a very intense moment,” she says. “There is a knock on the door, and the jurors file into the room. For the accused, that is like being on the worst roller-coaster ever. Emotionally, that person may not want to have a media circus behind them, but instead, have some privacy at that moment.”

This is not a privacy issue, Izadi says, considering that the verdict is always publicly released.

“It’s more the idea of respecting the process, and understanding that this isn’t a movie,” she says. “When the verdict comes in, someone’s life and future are hanging in the balance, depending on the deliberations of 12 strangers in another room. It is a very big deal.”

Noting that the new directive only applies to Toronto courts, Izadi says other Ontario municipalities should embrace it.

“In many cases, people with a vested interest in a case, such as those who know the accused or family members of the victims, may not be able to attend the trial,” she says. “They want to find out as soon as possible when a verdict has been reached, and they do that through the media.”

Social media is becoming a key tool for reporters, Izadi says, as “live tweets from the courtroom are an important way to get out news about the ruling.”

In the Star article, a media lawyer states: “Unless the public can scrutinize what happens in the courts and how the justice system is operating, you can’t have confidence that it’s working.”

Izadi calls that “a bit of a stretch. Yes, we need public scrutiny of our courts, but let’s recognize that Canada has one of the most amazing justice systems in the world. It is working very well, so let’s start any discussion by recognizing that.”

She describes the media as “an important asset to the justice system. Through reporting and commentary, journalists provide an invaluable gateway between our courts and our citizens.”

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