Our court system seems to be under constant scrutiny lately.
The courts want to be open and accountable to the public, yet a recent decision by the Attorney General's office has us and other newspapers in the province questioning that accountability.
Effective March 1, a fee of $8 per court records search was implemented for the general public, as well as journalists. The costs for the newspaper industry per paper could reach thousands of dollars per year.
Coast Reporter has made a commitment to cover our courts as accurately and fully as possible, but this new fee for information from our court registry will be so costly that it will interfere with our newspaper's ability to cover court stories.
In covering court, we seek assistance from the local provincial court registry two or three times in a typical week, usually to check upcoming court dates, inquire about a publication ban or verify the accuracy of details heard in court. For cases which are heard in Supreme Court (which includes the more serious crimes), it is essential to get information from the court registry by phone since it is a full day's travel to attend court in person.
The result will likely be fewer and poorer court stories in our newspaper and in other newspapers across the province. This will be to the detriment to the reading public.
We're also concerned that because of tight budgets at many small community newspapers, court reporting may be limited with a lack of information. The result could be disastrous if stories are published that are inaccurate, libelous or in contempt of court.These fees also impact the public, and we're not just talking about what they might read in the newspaper.
If you, as a member of the public, would like court information, get set to cough up the $8. How many people are prepared to do that?
We're pretty sure the Attorney General's office didn't intend to shut the media or the public out when they thought up this brilliant new rule, but just the same, it's out there now and this will affect all of us.
The provincial government is cutting costs in every sector to try and meet budget promises, but fees like this will end up hurting more people in the long run.