R. v. Cairn-Duff: A Look into Media Access to Court Exhibit


  • Adrienne Roy




It is firmly established that judges possess a discretionary power at common law to prevent the media from accessing and broadcasting court exhibits in certain circumstances. In Sylvester, Minden J. held that “[a]s custodian of the exhibits, the court is entitled to regulate the use to be made of the exhibits and to take steps to ensure it does not become an unwitting party to their misuse.” However, this discretionary judicial power should be exercised in accordance with general legal principles, case law, and statutory provisions so that consistent judgments in this area of law are rendered. In departing from the jurisprudence that demonstrated a general trend to favour media access to court exhibits, Cairn-Duff, a 2008 Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision, is a noteworthy judgment in its interpretations of certain principles, its consideration of previously unacknowledged practicalities, and its shift in onus to the media of having to prove its access is warranted. Cairn-Duff essentially devised a new approach for deciding whether media access to court exhibits should be granted, which, if followed in subsequent cases, will have a rather sweeping effect of restricting media access to court exhibits for the purpose of broadcast.






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