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Mobile phone ban ‘protects judicial process’

Hong Kong, 26 July 2018: Boase Cohen & Collins Senior Partner Colin Cohen has welcomed a judiciary crackdown on the use of mobile phones during jury trials.

The move – in the form of a directive issued by the Chief Justice, the Honourable Geoffrey Ma – has been prompted by recent cases of photo-taking during court proceedings.

Under the new rules, members of the public are now required to “completely switch off” any mobile phones or other devices capable of taking photos or videos and put them in their pocket or a bag. The court will provide a bag if necessary.

“Sadly, there have been instances recently of people taking photos in court, thereby creating a risk that jurors could be identified. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable as jurors must be free from pressure or distraction,” said Mr Cohen, who has co-ordinated defence teams on some of Hong Kong’s most high-profile court cases.

“In my view, the judiciary has acted correctly in moving swiftly to protect the integrity of the judicial process. Now, anyone caught using a phone may be held in contempt of court, leading to a fine or prison sentence depending on the severity of the offence, or they could be prosecuted under the Summary Offences Ordinance.

“Further, the directive from the judiciary makes it clear that by entering a courtroom with a mobile phone, people are deemed to have given their general consent to the court to inspect their device if illegal photo-taking or video-recording is suspected.”

To ensure compliance, court authorities are taking measures such as placing warning signs in court lobbies and issuing verbal reminders before proceedings start, while there is now increased vigilance from security personnel.

Two particular incidents prompted the Chief Justice to issue the new regulations, which came into force last week. First, a furore broke out two months ago when the judiciary received photographs of jurors sitting during a high-profile riot trial. Then, in another instance, a mainland tourist was caught taking pictures in a courtroom as it was in session.

Parties to the proceedings, their legal representatives, law enforcement officials and members of the media are exempted from the ban as it is acknowledged they often need to use text-based communications in the courtroom as part of their work.

In the case of lawyers and barristers involved in a hearing, the directive recognises that the use of mobile phones, tablets and laptops is common for the purpose of the proceedings. However, there are restrictions on how these may be used so that they do not cause disruption.

Mr Cohen added: “Of course, it should be remembered by those attending court, whether they are involved in a case or simply observing, that the judge has power to impose any other restrictions on the use of mobile phones as he or she sees fit and that this is not limited to jury trials.”

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The judiciary has banned the public from using mobile phones during jury trials.