Attorney General Dale Marshall is open to continuing consultations with the Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers on a recent request to record and televise court cases.
While making it clear that the request would not be forthcoming at present, Mr. Marshall told those gathered for the association’s media awards ceremony at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, on Sunday night, that consultations had been held with the former Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson and members of the magisterial bench.
“It is my view, however, that before we could come to an informed position, consultations must continue, since those consultations were not adequate to fully ventilate the issue. I mean no play on words when I say it is not a black and white issue. It simply needs wider ventilation so that we can achieve a position that best suits our environment when all interests are weighed in the proverbial scale,” he underlined.
Mr. Marshall explained that court proceedings in Barbados, with some exceptions, are to be held in public. This right, he added, is guaranteed by Section 18 (9) of our Constitution, which stipulates that “except with the agreement of all the parties thereto, all proceedings should be held in public”.
He observed: “So, the question is rightly posed. Should we not interpret the word public in light of all that currently prevails? Should we interpret the word public in terms of a 1966 Constitution, when in 1966, the prevalence of media and the ability to record things quickly and digitally simply was not in any contemplation?”
The Attorney General pointed out that the right to a public trial is not established to benefit “the public”, neither is it established to provide information or entertainment to the public.
He shared that in its common law origins, the right to a public trial “evolved to the benefit of the accused, so as to reduce the risk of what one writer called malevolent prosecutions, corrupt and malleable judges, and perjurious witnesses…”
Mr. Marshall acknowledged that the televising of high profile trials in the United States had outstripped the viewership of popular day time dramas, while in the United Kingdom, a more measured approach had been taken where the judge would be the only face on camera given concerns about identifying jurors and televising the testimony of certain witnesses.
The Attorney General said courts are already stressful environments, and witnesses giving evidence in the “full glare of the wider public in a country like Barbados needs to be considered”.