Family Law Blog

Are Family Courts Open to the Public in BC?

Are Family Courts Open to the Public in BC?

A question we receive often in family law is whether the courts are open to the public in British Columbia. The simple answer is that they are, and the fact they’re open is one of the more important aspects of our legal system.

This open court principle enhances the integrity of the judicial process, and the public’s faith in it, by allowing anyone to witness justice being administered in a non-arbitrary manner, and in accordance with the rule of law. Anyone has the right to see first-hand how our rights as Canadian citizens are protected. That being said, there are few very important exceptions. Let’s dive into the exceptions to the rule.

The Rights of a Child

Our rights to watch the legal process unfold are sometimes superseded by the need to prevent risk of serious harm to the individuals involved. This typically happens in unusually sensitive situations involving children. For example, if a young child is called to give evidence as part of a sexual assault case, a judge will typically restrict access to the courtroom during that section of the trial. Protecting the child by allowing for the child’s anonymity and privacy in this sensitive case may override the public interest in being able to  view the trial.

Ban on Publication

Another common restriction is something known as a ban on publication. If aspects of a case, should they become public information, have the potential to put a party or a witness at serious risk of harm, a judge may call for a ban on publication, stopping the news media from reporting on certain details, including the identity of parties. In a  few recent family law cases dealing with disputes over transgender teens’ rights to treatments, for example, the teens names have not been disclosed.

Even if a ban on publication is in place, the public is still entitled to attend the court case and watch proceedings.

Can Cameras Film in Family Law Courts?

In almost all scenarios, cameras are not allowed inside BC courts. Exceptions are made for ceremonies welcoming new judges, honouring retiring judges, and in memorial of judges who have recently passed away. Any filming or video recording of the regular, day-to-day court proceedings in British Columbia is strictly prohibited.

Here to Help

As family law experts, the team at Westside Family Law has been a trusted advisor to countless clients navigating family law issues. Need assistance with any aspect of family law? Contact us and we’ll be happy to assist.