Justice in New Zealand recently became more open, with the NZ High Court allowing a hearing to be live-streamed online. Although hearings before the Australian High Court have been video recorded and made available online since 2013, this was a new development on our side of the Tasman.
The trial in question was an appeal and judicial review by Mr Kim Dotcom and three of his business associates of a New Zealand District Court’s determination that they were eligible for extradition to the United States. The charges they would face in the United States are for alleged copyright infringement by users of their cloud storage site, Megaupload.
Notwithstanding opposition from the United States, live streaming was accepted by the High Court to be appropriate given that:
- The case is one that raises issues of public importance and is of considerable public interest both in New Zealand and overseas;
- Live streaming would facilitate public access to the Court proceedings for people unable to attend in person (“it will provide an opportunity for anyone to observe the proceedings by means of a virtual seat in the gallery”);
- The hearing was confined to legal submissions before a judge sitting alone – there was no risk of any adverse effect on witnesses or juries;
- There was no risk of the parties’ rights to a fair hearing being impeded or compromised.
Although exact figures are not available, the live stream was steadily viewed, allowing for new forms of engagement with the judicial process. Law students were encouraged by their Professors to watch in order to learn how little court in real life resembles the American sitcoms with which we are all familiar, and members of the public in general were able to view on their own terms and without any filter applied by the media.
Despite some initial scepticism about our images being beamed around the world, counsel involved in the case are enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by live streaming in terms of open justice. There does not seem to be any reason not to continue to live stream court hearings in appropriate cases. The future is now!
MSI Auckland law firm, Keegan Alexander, has represented two of the Megaupload executives since late 2014 and partner, Peter Spring, and senior solicitor, Amanda Hyde, appeared in the High Court earlier this year seeking to overturn the eligibility decision.