Policy on Public and Media Access

Policy on Public and Media Access 

Where there is no publicity there is no justice.  Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the very spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity.”  Jeremy Bentham 

The Federal Court recognizes that both the justice system and the public interest as a whole are well-served when media coverage of the courts is accurate, balanced and complete.   The Court also accepts that it has a responsibility to assist the media in achieving those goals.

In particular, members of the Federal Court and employees of the Courts Administration Service have a duty, consistent with their roles, to facilitate the media’s   coverage of the Court’s work. 

Based on these basic principles, this policy set outs a framework for relations between the Federal Court, the media, and the public as a whole. 

The Court is also committed to ongoing consultation about this policy with representatives of the media, the bar, and others, and to making improvements   in its application based on experience and developments in technology. 

Responsibilities of Members of the Court 

Justices and prothonotaries of the Federal Court are committed to facilitating public and media access to court proceedings and public documents. 

However, members of the Court generally do not comment on particular cases or their own decisions, so they are rarely in a position to speak publicly on these subjects. Accordingly, they do not give interviews regarding Court cases or decisions, but they do take opportunities in appropriate forums to discuss the role of the Court and its members, as well as broader issues relating to the administration of justice.  Requests for interviews with members of the Court should be presented to the Court’s Media Contact. 

If a judge or prothonotary is the subject of  an  unfounded  personal  criticism, or if information about the Court  or a particular decision is seriously misstated in media reports, the Court may respond to set the record straight.

Responsibilities of Court Officials and Media Contact 

On request, officials within the Federal Court Registry, who are employees of  the Courts  Administration Service, will provide factual  information to litigants and others  on a variety of subjects, including  Court  practices, policies, directives and procedures,  as  well as their own  functions and responsibilities as employees.  Local Registry contact information is set out in Appendix B. 

The Media Contact is the Federal Court’s principal contact for the media, readily available to provide factual information and explanations about the administration of the Court and the legal context of decisions. The Media Contact makes every effort to respond to enquiries as promptly as possible, but cannot make predictions about, or speculate on, the outcomes of cases.  The Media Contact may be reached at media-fct@fct-cf.gc.ca or (613) 943-4355.

The Roles of the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal 

The Federal Court hears and decides legal disputes arising under federal law, including applications for judicial review of decisions of most federal boards, commissions and tribunals. 

The Federal Court of Appeal hears and determines appeals from judgments of the Federal Court as well as applications for judicial review of decisions of certain federal boards, commissions, and tribunals. 

Note: Media enquiries about the Federal Court of Appeal should be directed to the Executive Director and General Counsel to the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal. See Contact Us page on the web site of the Federal Court of Appeal.   

The Open Court Principle 

The general rule in Canada is that court hearings are open to the public and may be reported in full.  However, courts also have significant common law and statutory powers to ensure that proceedings are conducted fairly and to protect the integrity of the courts’ processes.

Public and Media Access to the Federal Court

Hearings of the Federal Court, other than pre-trial or dispute resolution conferences, are generally open and accessible to the public and media, as are documents filed in Court. Specific exceptions relate to confidentiality orders, notably regarding commercial secrets in intellectual property cases and personal information in refugee cases; there are also certain statutory restrictions, such as those that apply in national security cases under the Canada Evidence Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.

General sitting days of the Federal Court for the hearing of motions are normally on Wednesday in Ottawa and Tuesday in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and on dates set by the Chief Justice in other locations. Refer to the following page on the Court’s website for further details: 

General Sittings

On Court premises, members of the public and media are requested to go about their business with the safety and dignity of the people coming and going uppermost in mind. Seating space in courtrooms is sometimes limited. For security and safety purposes, Court personnel will take into account the size of the courtroom when admitting the public and media to Court proceedings.

For the purpose of note-taking or electronic communication, laptop computers, tablets, smart phones and similar devices may generally be used in court provided they do not cause any disturbance to the proceedings. This applies to members of the media, counsel and members of the public.

Communications devices, such as cell phones, pagers, and similar devices are permitted in court provided they are set on silent mode and never used for voice communication. 

It is the responsibility of those who communicate any information about a court proceeding to respect any publication bans, confidentiality orders, or other limits imposed by the Court. In a particular proceeding, the presiding judicial officer may impose limits to prevent disruption or interference with a witness’s testimony. 

Recording and Photographing Court Proceedings 

Members of the media holding valid credentials may record procedings to verify their notes of what was said and done in court, but not for broadcast. Others (i.e., counsel or members of the public) must seek permission of the presiding judge; requests should be directed to   Court personnel or commissionaires.  

In most of its proceedings, the Federal Court acts as a court of judicial review, without witnesses and under rules similar to those applicable to appeal courts. If written notice has been given within a reasonable time, the Court will generally grant requests to record (audio or video) or photograph these proceedings for publication or broadcast. Requests related to specific proceedings before the Court require permission of the Chief Justice, who will consult with the presiding judge. If a request is approved, the Media Contact will work out the logistics. General Guidelines are set out in Appendix A. 

Requests to conduct interviews on Court premises, or to record or photograph Court facilities, should be directed to the Media Contact. 

 Media Access to Court Documents 

As a general rule, all Court documents are a matter of public record unless a legislative provision or Court order prohibits public access.

However, on request of a litigant, the Court may order that certain material be sealed or redacted in order to protect the confidentiality of personal or corporate information. Before a confidentiality order is made, an applicant must show to the Court’s satisfaction that it   is warranted, notwithstanding  the Court’s general preference for, and the public  interest in,  open and accessible court proceedings.  

Publication bans 

Members of the media have standing to be heard and to raise objections in open court when a party requests that a judge impose a non-statutory ban (Dagenais v. Canadian Broadcasting Corp., [1994] 3 S.C.R. 835).  In the exercise of their common law or discretionary authority to impose publication bans, judges must weigh all competing Charter rights (e.g., freedom of expression, right to a fair trial) and impose only the minimal ban necessary to protect fundamental rights. 

Non-statutory publication bans are rarely sought or imposed in Federal Court proceedings. However, if counsel make a motion for a publication ban, the motion will appear in the proceeding Docket on the Court’s Web site. Media representatives interested in a particular case are encouraged to follow proceedings closely through the Court Index and Docket. When a motion is filed, they will have an opportunity to challenge it in court. 

Electronic access to documents and information 

The schedule of Federal Court hearings is published on the Hearing List page.  At Court Index and Docket, the Federal Court case index may be searched and individual case information (the "case history") viewed, including a record of each document filed in Court.  The Court Index and Docket sets out a summary of each decision once it is issued. If formal reasons for decision are also issued, they are usually posted at the Decisions page within a few days after a final decision is signed. Interlocutory decisions (i.e., non-final decisions) are available via the Registry but are usually not translated or posted on the Court web site.  However, starting in 2018, all interlocutory decisions with formal reasons, as well as interlocutory decisions on stay of deportation motions, are provided to external publishers, including the CANLII.CA online database, so these decisions are now available online. The Court provides two subscription services for Court decisions: 

1. Federal Court Bulletins

By sending a blank message to with the words "media subscription" in the subject line, anyone may register to be sent Federal Court Bulletins. The bulletins provide notice of Court decisions for which there is special media interest, as well as other Court news such as judicial appointments or retirements. This service may also be set up through the website, via the orange RSS button on the Home Page. 

2. Decision Subscription

By going to Mailing List on the Decisions Page of the Court website (http://decisions.fct-­cf.gc.ca/site/fc-cf/en/l.do), anyone may register to be sent e-mail notices of all reasons for decision of the Federal Court when they are posted on the site. 

Copies of Court Documents and Digital-Audio Recordings of Court Hearings 

All original court files are maintained in the principal office of the Registry in Ottawa, but certified copies of all documents on particular files are maintained in local offices in St. John’s, Charlottetown, Halifax, Saint John, Fredericton, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Iqaluit and Yellowknife.

Documents may be viewed or obtained in person or requested by fax from local Registry offices. The fee for hard copies is set by the Federal Courts Rules (currently $0.40 per page). There is no fee charged if the individual viewing the file makes copies using his or her own portable copier, digital camera or hand-held scanning device. However, in that case, no documents secured or fastened on the file may be removed from the file, nor can the spiral or other binding (e.g., plastic Cerlox binding) be removed and then rebound. Documents may be viewed in a designated area and are not to be removed from the premises under any circumstances. Addresses and telephone numbers of Registry offices are provided in Appendix B.

Some Federal Court hearings require the attendance of a stenographer (also known as a court reporter), who is contracted by the Courts Administration Service to make a written record of the proceedings. If a stenographer is present, this will be noted in the Court's docket entry for the file, available at Court Index and Docket. Transcripts may be purchased directly from the court reporter. 

Most Federal Court hearings are recorded with a Digital Audio Recording System (DARS).  See Notice to the Profession regarding DARS recordings.  Copyright in audio recordings vests in and remains the property of Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.  Broadcast or distribution in whole or in part of any audio recording of Federal Court proceedings without the Court’s written consent is prohibited. 

Appendix A

General Guidelines

Media Broadcast   of Federal Court Proceedings

1. General 

(a) With reasonable advance notice in writing to the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the media may request permission to broadcast coverage of a Court proceeding. 

(b) The Chief Justice will consult with the judge hearing the proceeding and counsel for the parties. 

(c) If permission is granted, the Chief Justice or the presiding judge may at any time impose conditions on, or terminate, media coverage to protect the rights of the parties; to preserve the dignity of the Court; to assure the orderly conduct of the proceedings;  or for any other reason considered necessary or appropriate in the  best  interest of justice. 

(d) No direct public expense is to be incurred for equipment, wiring or personnel needed to provide media coverage.  

(e) There shall be no audio pickup or broadcast of conferences which occur in a court facility between counsel and their clients, or between co-counsel of a client.  

2. Equipment and Personnel

(a) Unless otherwise permitted, electronic media coverage is to be limited to:

i. two portable television cameras, each operated by one camera person;

ii. one still photographer;

iii. one audio system using existing court audio systems or unobtrusive microphones and wiring.  

(b) If two or more media representatives apply to cover a proceeding, their representatives are expected to agree upon a pooling arrangement, including designation of  pool operators, procedures for  cost sharing, access to and dissemination of material, and a  pool representative. 

(c) The media must show that they will use only equipment that does not produce distracting sound or light, or use flash attachments, other artificial light sources, signal lights or devices indicating that it is activated.

(d) The presiding judge may specify the location of equipment in the courtroom and require modification of light sources at media expense. 

(e) Media personnel are expected to place, replace, move or remove equipment, or change film, film magazines or lenses before court proceedings, after adjournment or during recesses. 

3.  Use of Materials  

Within 10 days of broadcast of a court proceeding, the media are to provide the Court with a copy. 

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