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CAD defends judge's right to prevent recordings of court proceedings

A HIGH Court judge has admitted that she instructed a journalist to delete recordings he made during the course of a hearing in the Supreme Court.

The Court Administration Division (CAD) admitted, too, that the judge requested that the veteran newsman “satisfy the police officer” that he had complied with her instructions.

But, according to the CAD, these instructions were issued on Tuesday after the journalist admitted that his tape recorder came on in the courtroom “by accident” and after the judge made it clear on two previous days that he was not permitted to record the proceedings of the court.

The judiciary insisted that “at no point was his cellphone searched”, CAD said, citing its internal investigation into the incident that unfolded at the Supreme Court.

“The judge made it unequivocally clear that she disapproved of his actions and instructed him to delete the recordings he made,” the court management agency said in a statement late yesterday, amid howls of criticisms of the judge’s alleged actions.

“She went further and requested of the journalist that he satisfy the police officer that he had complied with her instructions as issued on two previous occasions,” CAD said, making reference to the judge, who the newsman identified as Justice Sonya Wint-Blair.

CAD said, based on its report, a “cordial exchange” took place between the policeman and the journalist.

“It is to be noted that at this time no report was made to the court of any untoward or unprofessional conduct during the exchange with the police officer,” the agency said.

But the veteran dismissed as an “abject lie” the assertion by CAD that there was no search of his mobile phone.

He admitted that there was a “cordial exchange” with the policeman during the search of his recorder and the deletion of several recordings, but said things changed when the cop “snatched” his mobile phone from his hand.

“This wasn’t a case of me willingly giving up my phone. The man snatched the phone out of my hand. The policeman searched many screens, including drop down menus,” he charged during an interview yesterday.

The newsman acknowledged, too, that the judge indicated on previous days that he did not have authorisation to record the proceedings, and admitted that he “reflexively” turned on his recorder when he entered the courtroom early Tuesday.

But, according to him, the search and deletion of his recording occurred just before court adjourned for the day.

While acknowledging that the court’s media policy permits journalists to tape-record for verification, CAD said judicial officers retain the right under the Constitution to exercise their discretion as it relates to the conduct of any matter that is before the court.

“Therefore, the policy is not without restrictions,” the agency said, citing sections 12 and 15 of the policy.

Section 12 stipulates that the presiding judge may, at any time, impose conditions or terminate media coverage. It said this may become necessary to protect the rights of the parties, the dignity of the court, matters of national security, or for other reasons which the judge considers necessary.

Under Section 15 of the policy, the judge reserves the right to stop the recordings at any time during the proceedings.

CAD said the incident highlights the need for further engagement and sensitisation with members of the press and “internal stakeholders”.

The agency said it plans to meet with the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) to discuss the matter and chart a way forward to ensure there is no recurrence of a similar situation.