Access to Proceedings and Documents




Openness of the Court Process

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Trial Division is committed to the openness of the court process. Openness is one of the cornerstones of the Canadian legal system. It serves several purposes:

  • ensures public confidence in the integrity and fairness of the court system;
  • improves the public’s understanding of the court process; and
  • ensures that the court system is open to public scrutiny.

Openness means that the public is generally entitled to attend court hearings and access court records, dockets, exhibits and decisions. It does not mean that the public is always entitled to attend court hearings because sometimes other rights and interests outweigh the right to an open process. For example, privacy and the protection of the innocent may outweigh the public’s right to watch a legal proceeding.

There are two ways that the principle of openness can be restricted – either by legislation (a statute, regulation or rule) or by the order of a judge. Some examples of the restrictions that may be put on the openness of the court process include closing a trial to the public and the media, sealing the court file so that the public and the media cannot have access to it or prohibiting the publication of information related to the case. The media is the representative of the public. It assists the public because it reports on the happenings in the court. Because the media is a representative of the public, it does not enjoy a greater right of access to court hearings and records than the public.

Attending a Hearing or Trial

Unless legislation says that the hearing or trial must be in private or a judge orders that the public and the media cannot be in the court room during a hearing or trial, the public and the media may attend and watch any proceeding held at any location of either the Family Division or General Division of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Trial Division. A “private” hearing may also be described as “closed”, “in camera” or “public excluded”. All of these terms indicate that only the judge, court staff, sheriff’s officers, the parties and their lawyers are permitted in the court room.

One of the most common proceedings closed to the public is any hearing/trial under the Children and Youth Care and Protection Act (formerly the Child, Youth and Family Services Act). There are several types of hearings/trials under the Criminal Code that are held in private as well.

There will be a sign on the door of each court room saying whether it is open or closed to the public and the media. The daily docket of matters located at each court house will also indicate if a hearing or trial is closed to the public and the media.

Spectators in the court room must not disrupt the proceedings. This means that you must be silent, turn the ringer of your cell phone off and enter/exit the court room quietly. The judge may ask you to leave if you are disturbing the court.

If you enter a hearing or trial that is closed to the public and the media, the judge, clerk or sheriff’s officer will ask you to leave. Failure to do so may result in a finding that you are in contempt of court.

Access to Court Records and Exhibits

Civil and Criminal Proceedings

For Court records in civil and criminal proceedings, other than exhibits, public requests for access can be made at the Registry counter and access will be provided without delay unless there is legislation or an order prohibiting access.

The process for getting access to exhibits in civil and criminal proceedings is slightly different. An exhibit is a document or item that is presented to the court by one of the parties during a hearing or trial. The court keeps the exhibit throughout the proceeding and returns it to its owner once the trial is over. It is important that the court ensure that exhibits are not used for improper purposes. As a result, if a member of the public or the media wishes to have access to an exhibit in a civil or criminal proceeding, a form must be submitted to a judge before access can be granted.

Access to Court records and exhibits must be supervised by court staff and documents in Court files cannot be removed from the court house unless a judge orders otherwise. Please note that if you are allowed to have a copy of a document in the Court record or an exhibit, copying fees may apply.

Family Proceedings

Because of the nature of the information contained in family court records and exhibits, special rules dictate who may access them (see Rule 56A.04 of the Rules of the Supreme Court, 1986). Parties and their counsel may access records and exhibits in their own proceeding at any time, whether the proceeding is open or closed to the public. Parties and their counsel may also authorize other persons to access their court records, but the registry may require that such persons sign an undertaking before being granted access.

Members of the Bar (as officers of the court) can access court records and exhibits in all family proceedings which are open to the public.

In all other circumstances, anyone else requesting access to a family record or exhibit must make a formal application to a judge each time that person seeks access. The judge will determine whether access should be granted.

Access to Court records and exhibits must be supervised by court staff and documents in Court files cannot be removed from the court house unless a judge orders otherwise. Please note that if you are allowed to have a copy of a document in the Court record or an exhibit, copying fees may apply.

Recording, Photographing and Using Communication Devices in the Court

Civil and Criminal Proceedings

Unless the presiding judge orders otherwise, persons attending civil or criminal proceedings are permitted to:

  1. Record – but not transmit – audio during Court proceedings for note-taking purposes;
  2. tweet, text or use other forms of text-based communication when the Court is in session;
  3. take photographs or make video-recordings in the courtroom, but only when the Court is NOT in session (unless it is a ceremonial proceeding such as a call to the Bar, a swearing-in of a judge or a wedding, in which case this may be permitted during the proceeding); and
  4. take photographs, make video-recording or conduct interviews in the courthouse, but only if the Chief Executive Officer of the Supreme Court, in consultation with the Chief Justice, has specifically designated an area for this purpose or if the Chief Justice of the Trial Division has expressly authorized it in writing.

The use of a device for any of the above purposes must be discreet and may not interfere with Court proceedings. No one is permitted to speak on a communication device while the Court is in session. All devices must be set to silent or vibrate mode.

Notwithstanding the above, the use of communication devices while the court is in session is NOT permitted by jurors.

Anyone using a communication device during proceedings of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has the responsibility to identify and comply with any publication bans, sealing orders, or other restrictions imposed either by statute or court order.

Anyone who uses a communication device in a manner that the presiding judge determines to be unacceptable may be ordered to turn off the device, leave the device outside the courtroom, leave the courtroom, or abide by any other order the presiding judge may make.

Family Proceedings

Because of the nature of family proceedings, the recording of a proceeding and the use of cameras or communication devices in the courtroom is NOT permitted unless the presiding judge makes an order allowing it. Parties to adoption proceedings may request, and the presiding judge may authorize, that photographs be taken in the courtroom following the granting of an adoption order.

The use of cameras to take pictures, record video or conduct interviews of persons involved in family proceedings (such as child protection matters, adoptions, divorce proceedings, custody and access matters, child support matters and property division matters) is NOT permitted in the courthouse except where expressly authorized in writing by the Chief Justice of the Trial Division.

Anyone using a communication device during proceedings of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has the responsibility to identify and comply with any publication bans, sealing orders, or other restrictions imposed either by statute or court order.

Anyone who uses a communication device in a manner that the presiding judge determines to be unacceptable may be ordered to turn off the device, leave the device outside the courtroom, leave the courtroom, or abide by any other order the presiding judge may make.

For the Media

Starting on January 1, 2013, there will be a new procedure with respect to advising the media of applications to close a hearing/trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Trial Division. This procedure applies to all judicial centres including the Family Division.

If there is an application to close the hearing/trial (or part thereof) to the public and the media, the judge may direct the Court to email a notice to representatives of the media advising of the date and time of the hearing scheduled for the application. Only representatives of the media on the Court’s notification list will receive the notice.

An email notice will only be sent if the application requests the judge to use his/her discretion to close the hearing/trial. Therefore, you will not receive a notice where legislation requires the hearing to be closed to the public and the media such as proceedings under the Children and Youth Care and Protection Act.

Please note that these hearings are usually held as soon as possible after the application is brought forward and therefore, it is likely there will be little time between when the media are advised of the hearing and the date of the hearing.

Any representative of the media who wishes to make submissions to keep the hearing open to the public and the media should attend on the hearing date prepared to request standing and to make argument. The judge has the discretion to grant or deny standing to any representative.

There is only one notification list for the entire province. As a result, anyone on the list will receive all notices from all judicial centres.

The Court may limit the number of representatives on the notification list from any one media outlet.

If you would like to be added to the list of media representatives contacted when an application to close a hearing/trial is to be heard, you must fill out a request and forward it to:

Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Trial Division
Attn: Senior Deputy Registrar
309 Duckworth Street
P.O. Box 937
St. John’s, NL A1C 5M3

Fax: (709) 729-6623

Requests to be added to the list may be submitted at any time. If your contact information changes, you are responsible for submitting your new information. You must use the same form to make any changes.

If you submit a request to add or change contact information and it is not completed in full, your request will not be processed.

The notification procedure outlined above is provided as a courtesy. As a result, the Court is not responsible for any missed or late notices or for any delay in the distribution or receipt of notices. If you have any questions, contact the Registry of the court house in your area.