Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: Inside The Courtroom

Although criminal lawyers have an intimate knowledge of the courtrooms in which they practice, what do we really know about courtrooms elsewhere? We assume other courts would be all fairly similar but having practiced in Ontario and appeared in a myriad of courtrooms from Toronto, to Windsor, to Lindsay, and beyond, I can say courtrooms do differ. But how do courtrooms in other jurisdictions look? What about other countries? What goes on in them anyway? Well, thanks to the Internet, there are options and tools to help anyone peek into the inside of a court and to see, and perhaps understand more clearly, what exactly is going on inside.

1.   The International Criminal Court (ICC): I have written about the International Criminal Court in previous blogs, most notably here. This past week, the ICC trial chamber has been hearing the Ruto and Sang prosecution. William Samoei Ruto, the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya and Joshua Arap Sang, head of operations of Kalenjin language radio station KASS FM in Nairobi, are charged with crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute. Ruto and Sang are being tried for their role in the ethnic violence ocurring after the 2007-2008 Kenyan elections. The ICC distributes a video summary of weekly cases in their video series called “In The Courtroom.” The Ruto and Sang matter is this week’s installment showing the courtroom and the various members of the court as well as excerpts of the testimony of a witness, whose identity is carefully protected through use of a pseudonym, facial pixilation, and voice distortion. After the hearing summary, there is a short explanation about the court process including the possible prison terms and where such a sentence would be served. Not only does this video give us an opportunity to experience a totally different kind of criminal court but it gives us a better appreciation of the difficulties surrounding the prosecution and defence of international crimes.

2.   You Be The Judge: This is a great online interactive tool created by the Ministry of Justice in the UK to explain how a judge sentences an accused. The website allows the viewer to observe various criminal cases and to make interactive decisions, based on various factors, to determine the length of incarceration. The viewer/player experiences the courtroom setting and benefits from a number of “asides” from the Bench explaining the process. Through polls taken during the hearing, the viewer can see, in a risk-free environment, if their decisions are consistent with other viewers and with the sentencing judge. I have used this website in my undergraduate criminal justice classes to show how a sentencing judge uses his or her discretion with the rule of law to come to an appropriate and fit sentence.

3.   The Model Court: In a previous blog, I wrote a short piece on the intersection of law and art based on readings from a group of essays in Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics published by Sternberg Press. In the journal are photographs of the “Model Court,” which is a collaborative research project involving a group of artists, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Lawrence Abu Hamdan (who does some fascinating aural work in the area of the political role of voice in law called Aural Contract), Oliver Rees (he’s so supercool I can’t even describe what he does, so just check out his website) and architect, Lorenzo Pezzani. The project “uses the structure and technologies of the courtroom to interrogate the signifying and controlling role architecture plays in contemporary art and society.” By offering a “model court” as a container of ideas of “jurisprudence, evidence, and the hidden apparatuses that become the essential constituents of tribunals,” the project extends us beyond the courtroom into a representative space, which pushes the traditional four-wall envelope to give us an alternative view of justice.