In the extraordinary appeal hearing filed by Tama Talum, also known by his Chinese name, Wang Guang-lu (王光祿), the Supreme Court — in a break with precedent — allowed an oral argument.
It also allowed the hearing to be broadcast live online.
This constitutes a big step forward toward the creation of the e-court.
However, the implications of making live online broadcasts of hearings the norm should be considered, as well as how it should be done.
Trials are supposed to be open. This is the case for all trials, with the exception of those that involve state secrets, or those that require the protection of an involved individual, for example victims of sexual assault or children.
Most people do not have the time and energy to pay attention to trials, and few think of attending court in person. This being the case, the only trials that attract much attention are often so popular that people have to take a number and wait their turn to attend.
With technological advancements and easy access to the Internet, live online broadcasts can be the answer to the problem of limited seating and can also extend openness, with no temporal or spatial constraints.
In Tama Talum’s extraordinary appeal, the Judicial Yuan set up a dedicated Web site for live broadcasts and a Facebook page so that everyone could watch and leave comments expressing their views. In this way, trials can become more transparent by effectively preventing a judge’s arbitrariness.
All of this would suggest the desirability of making online broadcasts the norm.
That is not to say that there are no problems with the idea of live-broadcasting trials.
Tama Talum’s trial is a case in point. Some of the participants, including witnesses and experts, were reluctant to have themselves broadcast in this way. During segments in which they are present, the screen was filled with PowerPoint slides, while the audio was left on.
Yes, this does reduce pressure on the participants. However, it also makes it difficult to portray the real situation, and this reduces the openness and transparency of the trial.
In particular, since the trial is open, the words and actions of the judge must be closely examined and the witnesses are required to sign an undertaking that they shall be subject to perjury should they give false testimony. Given that, there is little room for privacy protection.
This being the case, the issue of showing what the participants look like and what they are doing without their consent is a moot point.
That said, there are still important differences between the openness of the court and having live broadcasts. It is not simply about the right to use people’s likenesses — there is also a risk that people on the stand, knowing that they are being broadcast to the world, might deliver testimony in a way they otherwise might not.
These issues are sure to come to the fore once online broadcasting of trials becomes the norm.
Wu Ching-chin is chair of the law department at Aletheia University.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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