A revolutionary step towards technology of the Court proceedings in Hong Kong – live broadcasting

Tamara Liu, Senior Associate   18 January 2024

In the second week of 2024, Hong Kong’s first live streaming of a hearing in the Court of Final Appeal as part of test run went smoothly – clear sound with a stable signal. It was part of the Judiciary’s initiative to enhance the transparency of court procedures by live broadcasting of selected hearings, with open justice a fundamental principle of maintaining public confidence in the judicial system and upholding the rule of law.

The live streaming involved a case about a lesbian who appealed against the Legal Aid Department’s withdrawal of her legal aid application for a judicial review of same-sex partner rights.

One camera captured senior counsels Jonathan Chang and Abraham Chan, who represented an appellant and the respondent respectively when presenting in turns, while three split screens at the bottom featured trial judges Roberto Ribeiro, Joseph Paul Fok, Johnson Lam, Robert Tang and Nicholas Phillip.

Viewers could watch the video on the website of the Judiciary but were barred from capturing or recording the broadcast for that would be considered contempt of court or a copyright infringement.

Types of hearings for livestreaming

Not all hearings are inherently appropriate for live broadcasting, in particular criminal trials, trials by jury, and trials involving vulnerable witnesses, whereas appellate proceedings, particularly hearings in the CFA, are considered suitable, including national security cases that had already begun.

Takeaway

  • Personal data and privacy concerns – Concerns of the possible misuse of the broadcast material, infringement of privacy and personal data, and doxxing of judges or legal representatives, or sensitivity of cases may need to be considered.
  • Access to technology – To uphold the principle of judicial fairness and to ensure equal access to justice, technology initiatives should not pose obstacles for those who cannot afford to use, or are incapable of using the relevant facilities or technology.
  • Security risks – To ensure public trust and confidence in the administration of justice, the security risks involved in the use of technology should be carefully assessed and addressed.

Comments

While these principles may be addressed during the testing period, future issues such as other appropriate platform (YouTube channels, TV channels) and the permission to televise or re-broadcast the content need to be resolved.

The live broadcasting development in 2024 is an exciting step towards aligning with the global trend of digitalising the court process, e.g. in Mainland China, the UK, the US, and Australia, alongside with the extended use of the e-court filing system, namely the iCMS, to the Court of Final Appeal and the High Court, which is also expected to launch in 2024.