Notice to Court Users on Use of Information Technology and Text-Based Communications in Courtrooms
(1) In phases, WiFi will be introduced into court buildings throughout Hong Kong Special Administrative Region which court users, including members of the public, will be able to join and hence send text-based communications such as text messages, e-mails and blog entries.
(2) This Notice provides guidance on the use of text-based communications in courtrooms. The opportunity is also taken to set out in paragraphs 5-9 below the restrictions that currently apply.
(3) It is obviously important that court1 proceedings are not disturbed by people making or receiving calls on their mobile phones and the like. However, the reasonable use of text-based (as opposed to voice or image-based) communications in court without interfering with the proper administration of justice and without disturbing others in the courtroom is regarded as legitimate and permissible in promoting open justice, provided that the rules set out in this Notice are observed.
(4) The term “text-based communications” covers electronic text communications, but excludes voice and image transmissions.
Existing rules unaffected
(5) Existing restrictions generally continue to apply. For example, it continues to be an offence under section 7 of the Summary Offences Ordinance, Cap 228 to take photographs (or to make sketches with a view to their publication) in court.
(6) The rules requiring reports of court proceedings to be fair and accurate also continue to apply, whether such reports are made by means of text-based communications sent from the courtroom or by other means.
(7) Audio- or video-recording of proceedings (other than by the court’s own system) continues to be forbidden unless the court gives its express permission.
(8) The rule that mobile phones or other mobile communication devices should not be used in courtrooms to make or receive calls also continues to apply.
(9) As regards note-taking of court proceedings and use of electronic equipment for word processing purposes, prior approval from the court is not required although the court has of course the power to intervene if the proper administration of justice so requires.
Permission to use text-based communications in courtrooms
(10) The presiding Judge2 has the responsibility to ensure the proper administration of justice in his or her courtroom. Use of text-based communications will only be allowed if it does not interfere with the due administration of justice.
(11) Provided that the proper administration of justice can be assured and subject to the considerations mentioned in this Notice, the reasonable use in courtrooms of text-based communications with due regard to other court users is permitted. For this purpose, mobile phones or other mobile communication devices switched to airplane mode and only connected to the WiFi provided by the court may be used as a means of text-based communications subject to fulfilment of the conditions and requirements set out in this Notice.
(12) Whether they are used or not, the presence in court of devices connected to a 3G or 4G and similar telecommunications networks interferes with the court’s DARTS recording system. Accordingly, it is essential that such devices are first switched to airplane mode, disconnected from any cellular telecommunications network and only then connected to the court-provided WiFi system.
(13) There is no objection to the use of Bluetooth enabled devices, such as a mouse and/or keyboard, in conjunction with such mobile communication devices and/or personal computers in courtrooms.
(14) However, all alerts of incoming messages or communications on such mobile communication devices must be switched to silent mode and, since mobile communication devices with the vibration function enabled may also generate noise and cause disturbance to the DARTS system, the vibration function must be disabled.
(15) To ensure that proceedings are conducted consistently with the proper administration of justice and to avoid any improper interference with the court’s processes, the Judge may withdraw permission for the use of text-based communications at any time.
(16) The decision whether to withdraw permission is a matter of case management for the Judge.
(17) Cases where permission will generally be refused include cases where use of text-based communications may place the integrity of the court proceedings at risk or cause disturbance at the hearing, for example:
|(a)||cases where the proceedings are not open to the public;|
|(b)||cases where there may be a risk of improper communication between someone in a courtroom and a witness waiting outside to give evidence;|
|(c)||cases where witnesses, jurors, counsel or other participants may be distracted or made to feel worried or pressurised by someone sending or receiving text-based communications in a courtroom; and|
|(d)||cases where the equipment used is inappropriate, for example, involving noisy keyboard use, or causing electronic interference with the court’s microphone or recording system.|
(18) The examples listed above are not exhaustive. The court will be particularly vigilant against the undesirable use of text-based communications where the proceedings involve witnesses and jurors.
Notice subject to review
(19) This Notice takes effect immediately. It may, however, be considered necessary or desirable in the light of experience to make changes to the practice here outlined in the future.
(20) For the avoidance of doubt, provisions stated in this Notice do not entitle court users inside courtrooms to unrestricted use of any electronic equipment or any forms of communications or connections not covered in this Notice. Any such use must continue to require specific permission from the presiding Judge.
4 February 2014
1 The reference to “court” in this Notice covers courts and tribunals as applicable.
2 The reference to “Judge” in this Notice covers Judge and Judicial Officer as appropriate.