Restore courtrooms to their proper use
Turning off your mobile telephone for a short period while in court is a small sacrifice to make to ensure the smooth administration of justice
Television court dramas are popular with viewers, but members of the public seeking a taste of the real thing might be disappointed. Real-life court cases are rarely as exciting. Hong Kong’s High Court has, however, become a tourist attraction for visitors from the mainland.
The city’s courts are generally open to the public and it is good for the people to experience and better understand the legal system.
But the High Court is not Disneyland.
Court cases, especially those tried by jurors, are serious matters to be conducted in a dignified way. The taking of photographs in court is not only disruptive to the proceedings, it is against the law. The judiciary, therefore, needed to take firm action in light of a recent spate of incidents involving people taking pictures and shooting video in court. Last week, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li issued a practice direction requiring those attending jury trials to switch off their mobile telephones and put them away. This might appear to be a drastic step, in an age when many of us find it difficult to go more than a few minutes without access to our phones. It also rolls back a policy introduced in the courts in 2014 that allowed visitors to the courts to send text messages for the first time.
Sadly, the more liberal approach has been abused. A visitor from the mainland was jailed for seven days last month after taking pictures in court and uploading them to social media. Another woman was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of taking pictures during a case. There was also a more sinister incident in which the judiciary was emailed pictures of jurors taken during a trial involving the 2016 riot in Mong Kok.
The new rules permit judiciary staff to ensure that telephones in jury trials are switched off. Anyone caught with their telephone switched on could face a fine or even jail. Media representatives and parties to the proceedings are, sensibly, exempted from the ban.
Hopefully, the new rules will stop these disruptive incidents. It is important that our courts remain open to the public. But cases must be able to proceed without interference. Turning off your mobile telephone for a short period while in court is a small sacrifice to make to ensure the smooth administration of justice.