Thursday, 13 November 2008

Qld: No use of recordings in court

Queensland Parliament has today passed new laws banning access to recordings and transcripts made of courtroom conversations when cases are not being heard.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Kerry Shine said the justice system relied heavily on sophisticated digital recording equipment to prepare transcripts and provide audio playback of evidence, but recent concerns had been raised about potential misuse.
"This equipment records continuously to eliminate the risk of cases not being recorded through operator error and it offers many technical advantages that were simply not possible with the old analogue tape decks," Mr Shine said.
"But the concern related to private conversations when court was not in session and the silence of existing laws on whether such recordings could be legally accessed.
"That would never have been allowed in any case involving legal professional privilege, but we took the view that public confidence required a total ban to remove any shadow of doubt.
"The provisions passed by Parliament today have closed that legal loophole once and for all."
Mr Shine said the amendments to the Recording of Evidence Act banned access to all out-of-session recordings and provided explicit legal authority to destroy them.
"The new provisions will formally take effect from the date of assent by the Governor in Council, expected within weeks.
"But the ban is effectively in force from today, because the transitional arrangements now ensure no one can access out-of-session recordings or transcripts before assent."

Source: Ministerial Media Release

Comment: This change is significant. It used to be the case that the only part of recordings that was able to be accessed was the actual hearing, but then with sophisticated recording equipment, all types of conversations in the courtroom could now be recorded.

It is common if there is to be break in the proceedings for one party to go outside and the other remain inside talking to their lawyers. If the other side were unscrupulous they could obtain a copy of the recording and know exactly the thinking in the other camp, even if they cannot tender that part of the recording in court (because it subject to legal professional privilege. In Queensland courts at least, this practice (I am not aware of anyone doing so) will stop dead in its tracks.

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