Hong Kong's courts must catch up with modern times; tweets a start

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 8:43am

If there is anything that shows Hong Kong has not kept pace with the times, it would be the city's courtrooms. We are not just talking about the men and women in wigs and gowns uttering jargon that sounds obsolete to modern ears. As if preserved inside a time capsule, the way that the proceedings take place is also very much the same as it was eons ago. Intriguingly, the use of communication devices inside the courtroom is still prohibited; photography and sketches are not allowed either. The sweeping ban has not just made journalists' life difficult, it also sits oddly with the government's commitment to open justice.

Our justice administrators are not oblivious to the inroads made by new technologies over the past century. But they are slow to embrace gadgets that have already become an integral part of modern city life. It is not surprising that the momentum of change took years to gather pace.

After years of campaigning by this newspaper, there is finally some positive development. The judiciary announced that Wi-fi would be introduced to the Wan Chai courts and other court buildings in phases. This move enables journalists and members of the public to send text messages and tweet about court proceedings and rulings instantly.

Belated as it is, the move helps bring the city closer to other jurisdictions that have long allowed text-based communications inside courtrooms. In 2010, a British judge made a then-groundbreaking move to allow journalists to use Twitter to update the world on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's bail proceedings. Britain's Supreme Court also read out judgment summaries on YouTube.

With open justice being one of the hallmarks of the rule of law, the judiciary ought to be using more 21st century technology to engage the public. It makes no sense to adhere to archaic rules that prevent the public from following what happens inside courtrooms in a quicker manner. Without compromising the judicial proceedings, the courts should move ahead with the times by lifting other unreasonable bans.