Recording Hong Kong court cases without permission could become punishable by fines and imprisonment under proposals put forward by the judiciary as part of a three-month public consultation.

Anyone who records proceedings inside the courtroom “without lawful authority or reasonable excuse” could face a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and imprisonment of up to six months, according to consultation documents published on Thursday.

The Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

According to the consultation document, recording refers to creating or generating an image, an audio record and making an audio, a visual or an audio-visual record that is transmitted in real time, such as livestreaming.

Photography, and sketching for the purpose of publishing, are currently outlawed under section 7 of the Summary Offences Ordinance, and offenders could risk a fine.

While the audio or video recording of court proceedings is also currently banned without prior permission, no punishment is listed for violations. Note-taking will continue to be permitted.

“For the avoidance of doubt, note-taking is presently permitted and will continue to be allowed. For example, lawyers and reporters who take notes of the proceedings and disseminate such information for their respective legitimate purposes should be allowed,” the documents read.

Hong Kong judges. File photo: GovHK.

The Judiciary told HKFP on Thursday night that note-taking and the use of electronic equipment for word processing purposes by members of the public was “generally permissible,” as long as it did not “interfere with the due administration of justice.”

The judiciary also plans to introduce another offence outlawing the publication of unauthorised recordings of court hearings. The proposed law would also cover distribution outside the court area, meaning that anyone who published a court recording, for example, in their home, would violate the law.

Offenders would risk a HK$100,000 fine and five years’ imprisonment.

Remote hearing

There are also plans to introduce remote hearings for some court sessions but not for a defendant’s first appearance or for a plea, verdict, or sentencing.

Certain other criminal proceedings are also not suitable for remote hearings, according to the consultation papers.

“For instance, for bail applications, which relate to the detainees’ liberty of person, the court would jealously guard the proceedings so as to ensure that the applicant is not subjected to any pressure or influence or the use of force, etc. in relation to his bail application. Live audio link may not be viable,” it says.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.