Media and the Courts
Canadians live in a society that places a high value on openness in the justice system. By enabling the public to attend court proceedings and allowing access to court documents, citizens can learn about the law firsthand. However, the reality is most citizens learn about the legal system through movies, television, and news coverage of court proceedings.
Citizens need to see that the Courts and the justice system operate openly and fairly for everyone. For this reason, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized, on numerous occasions, that the media, as representatives of the public, must be given special consideration when applying certain rules and policies of the Courts.
Journalists have a responsibility too — to ethically report the news of the Courts in a balanced and accurate manner. Sensational or inaccurate news coverage can have a direct impact on public confidence in the Judiciary and the Courts.
These resources are intended to help journalists access the information they are entitled to under the law and the policies of the Nova Scotia Courts, and to better understand how the legal system operates. Any questions should be directed to Jennifer Stairs, Director of Communications for the Nova Scotia Judiciary, at 902-424-6018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guidelines for Media and Public Access to the Courts
The Nova Scotia Courts have a Media Liaison Committee to deal with issues of media and public access to the Courts. The Committee includes journalists, media lawyers, journalism professors and a judge from each of the five Courts.
Among other responsibilities, the Media Liaison Committee looks after updating the Guidelines for Media and Public Access to the Nova Scotia Courts. This is a comprehensive guide outlining access to the Courts and court documents, restrictions on access, decorum in the courtroom, policies for the use of cameras in courtrooms and courthouses, publication bans, and designated media areas at the courthouses.
The original version of the guidelines was developed by in 1992 and has been revised on several occasions since. The most recent version went into effect on April 1, 2019.
Publication bans restrict what information a person can share about a court case. They are used sparingly to prevent risks to the administration of justice and to protect vulnerable individuals.
Some bans are mandatory, while others are at a judge's discretion. Parties applying for discretionary bans are required to provide notice to the media.
The Media Liaison Committee provides a forum in which the media and the Judiciary can discuss issues of mutual concern and consider possible solutions. The committee is composed of Judges from each level of the Nova Scotia Courts, the Executive Office the Judiciary, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, a representative from the journalism schools, a media lawyer, and up to six media representatives. Reporters should feel free to contact their representatives on the committee to suggest matters for the Committee’s agenda.
- Justice Anne Derrick, Nova Scotia Court of Appeal
- Justice Gail Gatchalian, Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (General Division)
- Justice Robert Gregan, Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (Family Division)
- Judge Daniel MacRury, Provincial Court of Nova Scotia
- Jennifer Stairs, Director of Communications, Nova Scotia Judiciary
- Allan Coley, Court Services Division, Nova Scotia Department of Justice
- Blair Rhodes, CBC News
- Richard Dooley, Global News
- Heidi Petracek, CTV News
- Steve Bruce, The Chronicle Herald
- Steve MacInnis, Saltwire Media
- Keith Corcoran, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin
- Trina Roache, University of King's College - School of Journalism
- Nancy Rubin, K.C., Stewart McKelvey
The Nova Scotia Courts recognize that for citizens to have confidence in the Judiciary and the justice system, judges’ decisions need to be available to the public, including the media.
Just like most court files, court decisions are publicly accessible in Nova Scotia. The Courts self-publish most written decisions and post them in a searchable database on the Courts’ website. The Courts also offer a daily decision release email service. To subscribe, visit the Searchable Database and click on “Mailing list” at the bottom of the page.
The searchable database is not a complete collection of all of the decisions released by the Nova Scotia Courts. It currently contains most of the decisions published since 2003. The Court of Appeal collection is the most complete. Many decisions are oral decisions and never released.
The Nova Scotia Courts also provide daily notices of decisions via Twitter.
The Courts of Nova Scotia, in consultation with representatives of the media, have developed a policy regarding the use of electronic devices inside courthouses and courtrooms. The policy includes media use of smartphones and other similar technology to share information about court proceedings on social media platforms, primarily Twitter.
There is one general policy outlining the use of electronic devices in most Nova Scotia Courts. Due to heightened restrictions in some Courts, there are separate policies for use of electronic devices and Twitter in the Family Court, Youth Court, and the Mental Health Court Program. Click on the links below to view the full policies for each. These policies are also included as Appendix E in the Media Access Guidelines.
Recognizing that the Courts are public institutions that must be open and transparent, the Nova Scotia Courts have a process in place for individuals, including members of the media, to request the official audio recording of court proceedings. That process requires the Applicant to sign an undertaking that the audio will not be broadcast without the prior consent of a Judge or Justice.
To request the official court audio, an Applicant must fill out and file a form with the appropriate Court. The completed, signed forms can be submitted through the Court Administration office or the Judiciary's Communications Director. There is a fee of $22.57 + HST to produce the audio. There is also a charge of $1.00 + HST per log sheet. The log sheets provide a written outline of the court proceeding and are necessary for transcription purposes. If you do not require the log sheets, please indicate that in your application.
The timeframe for production of the audio will depend on availability of court staff to produce the recording. The audio is prepared on a USB stick. The Courts do not produce text transcripts. There are several certified commercial transcription services in Nova Scotia that can produce transcripts from the audio recordings.
How can I access search warrants in the Provincial Court?
Each Provincial Court in the province keeps a search warrant log and a separate binder containing copies of the log sheets for the search warrants that are available for public viewing.
Typically when a search warrant is granted, the related paperwork is not publicly available until after the search warrant has been executed and objects found during the search are brought before a justice. That happens through a Report to Justice.
If nothing was seized during a search, if a Report to Justice has not yet been filed, or if the search warrant was sealed by a judge or Justice of the Peace, no one, including court staff, is permitted to unseal the warrant packet, except on order of a judge. Any person, including a journalist, seeking access to a warrant that is not publicly accessible must apply before a judge in open court, after giving notice of the application to any other known party. That is a legal process outlined in the Criminal Code.
When sealed warrants are routinely unsealed, they will be added to the public search warrant log. The logs are available for viewing by request through the Court Administration Office at the courthouse.
How can I access information related to wire taps?
Applications for wire taps are confidential until charges are laid and that information becomes part of a public court file. Otherwise, those files remain confidential.