Starting from July 19, people in courtrooms where jury proceedings are taking place will be completely banned from using their mobile phones or any other devices with photo-taking or video-recording capability, the judiciary announced on Thursday.
The move came after photos of four jurors in the high-profile Mong Kok riot case were sent to an email account managed by the complaints office of the judiciary in May. Then a mainland woman was found later that month taking photos in the public gallery while a High Court judge was trying a case in connection with the riot.
The new court rule, based on a directive issued on June 15 by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, applies to all civil, criminal and coroner’s courts, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Under the rule, only the parties of lawsuits, legal representatives, members of law enforcement agencies and the media will be allowed to use their mobile phones in designated areas.
Others, unless given permission by the judge, will have to switch off their phones and any other devices with photo-taking or video-recording capability and put them in their bags or pockets whenever they are inside a courtroom, even if the court is not in session.
If they do not have a suitable bag or pocket, the court will provide a bag to keep their devices in.
Violators could be fined or jailed for contempt of court or be prosecuted according to Article 7 of the Summary Offences Ordinance.
In its announcement, the judiciary said: “Trial by jury is an important part of the administration of justice under the common law, which is constitutionally protected under Article 86 of the Basic Law.
“Jurors should not be placed in a position where they feel threatened and must be free from all actual or perceived interference, pressure or distraction.
“For this reason, the prohibition of photography and video-recording assumes even greater importance inside courtrooms where jury proceedings are being held,” the announcement said.
Welcoming the new rule, Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who represents the legal functional constituency in the Legislative Council, said putting a long-time tacit understanding down in black and white meets actual needs.
The lawmaker also suggested more bailiffs be assigned to a court to help prevent courtroom photography when a major case is tried.
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