The judiciary has announced that the use of mobile phones or devices with photo or video-taking capabilities will be banned from courtrooms during jury trials starting next month. The new policy follows a spate of incidents concerning photo-taking in courts this year.

The measure will take effect on July 19, and will cover civil or criminal trials at the High Court and inquests before the Coroner’s Court that involve juries. The restrictions will not apply to the parties of the proceedings, members of the law enforcement agencies, and the media sitting in designated areas.

Photo: inmediahk.net.

The announcement came after a woman was arrested last week for allegedly taking photos in a courtroom during a High Court drug case trial.

Earlier this month, a 35-year-old mainland citizen – Tang Lin-ling – was sentenced to seven days in jail for criminal contempt after taking three photos inside a courtroom during a hearing on the clearance of the 2014 Occupy Mong Kok protest site. She was later deported to Shenzhen.

At the trial of localist Edward Leung, who faced charges over the 2016 Mong Kok unrest, the court sought protection for the jury after the judiciary’s complaints office received an email from an unknown sender with a photo attachment showing the faces of four jurors. The same trial saw two other instances of men found to be, or accused of, taking photos inside the courtroom.

Edward Leung. Photo: Citizen News.

Under new practice directions issued by the chief justice on the restrictions, those attending court trials are required to switch off their devices and put them in bags or pockets whenever they are inside a courtroom, unless permission is obtained from the judge or judicial officer. The restrictions apply regardless of whether court is in session.

According to the directions, court users, aside from exempted individuals, are also deemed to have given general consent to the court to search or inspect their device in order to investigate whether the restrictions were complied with.

Courts that do not adopt jury proceedings could also order similar restrictions if appropriate, the judiciary added.

Tang Lin-ling. Photo: Citizen News.

The judiciary said it has also recently introduced measures such as broadcasting public reminder announcements prior to court proceedings or posting additional notices to remind court users of the prohibition on photo-taking. Manpower has been strengthened to monitor the situation and staff will remind the public to put away their phones at the entrances of courtrooms.

A judiciary spokesperson said that “due administration of justice is of paramount importance for court proceedings” and prohibiting photography without permission is one such safeguard.

“Jurors must be free from all actual or perceived interference, pressure or distraction. For this reason, the prohibition of photography and video-recording assumes even greater importance inside courtrooms where jury proceedings are being held,” the spokesperson said, adding that the restrictions do not restrict the freedom to use mobile phones at other parts of the court building.

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Karen Cheung

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.