Hong Kong's courts should join the 21st century

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 7:18am

The wide coverage of court proceedings in newspapers and broadcasts is a daily reminder that Hong Kong has an open system of justice under an independent judiciary. This is reflected in high public interest in trials, judgments and sentences. It, therefore, seems strange that in a city with a diverse and vibrant media environment, the courts remain decades behind counterparts in comparable jurisdictions when it comes to the use of information technology for communication of their proceedings. The English legal battles of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange provide a case in point. In December 2010, a judge made a then groundbreaking ruling to allow journalists to update the world on Assange's bail proceedings via Twitter. Even now in Hong Kong courts, however, any form of live-text communication remains forbidden, including sending emails and Twitter reporting, along with drawing in courtrooms and photography even in court corridors.

Meanwhile British courts have moved on, with supreme court judges reading out judgment summaries on the video-sharing website YouTube, court hearings available online and people in court generally free to send and receive texts.

Technological advances can help citizens and journalists keep up with the wheels of justice. Live, text-based communication is a tool of modern reporting, which journalists do outside anyway. More than two years ago the judiciary said it would note developments in other jurisdictions. But still mobile phones must be switched off and live, text-based communication is banned "in order not to disturb court proceedings". Concern about interference to the court's recording system should be eased as Wi-fi is gradually enabled in the city's courts. This should prompt the judiciary to allow 21st century technology to play a role in encouraging public engagement with its work, perhaps starting by permitting texting and the use of cameras in the Court of Final Appeal, which frequently deals with matters of high public interest.