Manitobans can get a glimpse today of what goes on in their provincial courtrooms without having to step foot in one.
For the first time ever, a Manitoba court proceeding will be recorded for broadcast to the public as part of a long-awaited push to place cameras in courtrooms.
Tuesday, the chief judges of all three levels of Manitoba's courts heralded the pilot project as a "baby step" aimed at increasing public access to justice and overall transparency in how the court system works.
"Courts must be open to the public," said Court of Appeal Chief Justice Richard Chartier, repeating the democratic axiom twice for emphasis. "Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done."
A media camera in courtroom 230 at 1 p.m. today will record Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice Shane Perlmutter giving his reasons for his decision on the guilt or innocence of a woman accused of fatally stabbing her husband in 2011.
The Free Press will live stream the event on its website, winnipegfreepress.com.
Cassandra Knott, 30, is accused of second-degree murder for killing her abusive common-law spouse, Orzias Joram Knott, 34, inside a downtown apartment. She has pleaded not guilty on the grounds she was defending herself and never meant to kill him.
There was nothing deliberate about the choice of Knott's case as the first, other than the camera-in-court initiative had to start somewhere, Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said.
"If the process is properly handled, I think it will show that in the warm light of day that the court... works in a way that's consistent with access to justice," Joyal said.
The camera will focus solely on Perlmutter delivering his decision. No other images -- say of Knott or the lawyers involved -- are being contemplated for broadcast and no submissions are expected to happen, said Joyal.
The next case to be broadcast will come April 30 as the Court of Appeal hears a convicted murderer's bid for a retrial in the deaths of his parents and brother. A provincial court proceeding is still being selected.
The top judges will evaluate the project over the coming months to see if it's meeting its goals. In the meantime, it remains open to the media to bring legal applications forward to have a camera in cases they deem worthy of their attention, Joyal said.
It's possible that down the road one courtroom at each level of the court system would become so-called "presumptive" venues, where it's just expected cases there will be captured on camera, Joyal said.
It's not currently being contemplated that these rooms would hear trials or proceedings where witness testimony is being heard.
The Court of Appeal seldom, if ever, takes testimony from witnesses but often hears cases of major public interest and consequence.
Likely, camera-friendly rooms in Queen's Bench and provincial court would spotlight cases where lawyers are presenting arguments or judges are delivering decisions.
Parties would still be allowed to object to the case being broadcast, Joyal said, but the underlying principle is cameras are allowed.
"I think you may get less opposition than you would expect if this operation proceeds with the type of civility and organization and type of purpose that we want," Joyal said.
The final say would always fall to the presiding judge.