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WebCourt: coming to a PC near you

WebCourt: coming to a PC near you

Broadcasting court cases on the internet will be on the Victorian Brumby Government's agenda should it be re-elected in the upcoming state election.According to Premier John Brumby, the idea is…

Broadcasting court cases on the internet will be on the Victorian Brumby Government's agenda should it be re-elected in the upcoming state election.

According to Premier John Brumby, the idea is to give the public a better understanding of the complexities involved in a legal hearing by allowing them to view cases being streamed from the Magistrates, County and Supreme courts.

Brumby said a mix of high-profile and less prominent cases, of which most will be criminal, would be uploaded online - and streamed as "WebCourt" - as determined by the judiciary.

"We're going to webcast the courts," Brumby told Fairfax Radio on Tuesday (9 November).

"You'll be able to tune in, you'll be able to see the court proceedings, you'll be able to see the defence, you'll be able to see all of that, you'll be able to see the judge ... The intention is to give a fair representation of what's happening in the courts so the public can watch.

"It'll [give] the public better understanding of the complexities of what happens in a court case ... But in turn also I think it'll help make sure judges are more in tune with community attitudes."

However, Brumby said he had not yet discussed the idea with judicial officers.

"There'll be some I guess that might be happy about this, there'll be some that won't."

The Law Institute of Victoria, however, has already expressed its opposition, stating that the $6.5 million the Brumby Government plans to spend on the program would be better spent on legal aid.

"We think it would be better for the government to use this money for legal aid funding," said Steven Stevens, president of the LIV.

"At least one advantage of the proposal might be that the public will see how many people miss out on legal aid now and appear before the courts without a lawyer."

The LIV added that some lawyers have already expressed concern over WebCourt and say careful consideration is needed to ensure the privacy and rights of individuals involved in court cases.

"We oppose it for jury trials because of the potential for identification of jurors, who may be intimidated by fear of retribution; witnesses, whose testimony may be affected; and other parties who may be identified," said Stevens.

"We support it in limited circumstances. We don't want it turning into a Judge Judy-type media circus, like it is in the US. It is not about the personality of prosecutors, defendants or judges. It is about a fair trial and whether it is useful to inform the public about our criminal justice system.

"We support it in sentencing hearings because publicising sentencing would act as a deterrent. It would also help explain the difficult task judges and magistrates have in sentencing and help eliminate ill-informed comments about sentencing which arise from time to time."

Stevens also made the point that the operation of Victoria's law courts was already transparent and accessible to the public.

"There is no real need for WebCourt. Most court proceedings are already recorded and from an educative point of view, the courts are already open to the public. Any interested person can go to court and learn how it works," he said.

"The Law Institute will make its position known to the Government and seek to be involved in making sure WebCourt is implemented appropriately."

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WebCourt: coming to a PC near you
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