Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The Bennett Letter to Robin Mathews
COMMENTARY ON THE BENNETT LETTER TO ROBIN MATHEWS
By G. West
September 19, 2007
Although not much of anything happened in court this week, something positive actually did transpire ‘outside’ the halls of justice.
The single most glaring omission in this case, from the very beginning, has been the public interest. Although the trial judge has, from time to time, appeared almost ready, if not anxious, to present an active and comprehensive appeal to the single most egregious offender against the principle of timely and open proceedings, she has always managed to catch herself in the act. Whether this reluctance to push the special prosecutor to actually facilitate the undertakings he and his staff have repeatedly made, (and then promptly forgotten), is accidental or purposeful is impossible to say.
Not only was Mr Berardino missing in action for months this year; the interested observer can hardly be blamed for wondering exactly what motivates a man who accepts such an important assignment and then proceeds to behave as if he couldn’t care less how long it takes to actually bring these accused to trial. Why disclosure in this case was not completed before the end of 2006 is a good question.
A better one is why, since the hearings and further promises of early this year, no more progress has actually been made.
The reluctance of the working press to do much more than ‘actively ignore’ this case and its implications has put interested and concerned members of the public in a bind. Such observers would like to know:
a) How the case is proceeding and why it is not moving any faster; and
b) In the absence of comprehensive investigative reports (and not idle speculation), exactly what (admittedly little) has actually been disclosed and discussed at the intermittent court appearances before the judge.
Their curiosity is also piqued by the knowledge (during the period that the case was being heard while the Legislature was in session) that the Campbell Government hired their own reporter to make twice daily reports to the Government and/or the BCLiberal Party about events transpiring before the judge.
During the past year and a half, other individuals have also done their best to try and prize away from the court and its officers some of the public information and documentary evidence presented in this trial. The public interest in knowing about the disposal of important public assets and the role which may have been played by elected members of the government – perhaps legally, perhaps not, is paramount.
And yet, contrary to the very grounding principles of justice and democracy, the court has not – until just recently – even deigned to acknowledge that this is a legitimate and necessary function of the system. It should not be exceptional that a member of the public should have as much and as free access to the documents and the proceedings of this case before the bar as a member of either the defence or prosecution team, or, for that matter, a member of the working press.
As regular readers of 'The Legislature Raids’ will know, much of the time the public will have been able to access and read court documents, press clippings and analysis - among other things - here at BC Mary’s blog is because of the dedication and hard work of a retired Simon Fraser University professor.
Now, after a series of polite but firm letters – most of which have been published here from time to time – Robin Mathews has finally received the first direct acknowledgment from the Court that he, and through him, we (the public) do have a fundamental and democratic right to view, listen to and access, the PUBLIC RECORD of this trial and the steps leading up to it.
Is this the last hurdle in getting information to the public about how, or how badly, the government has been discharging its fiduciary duty to the citizens? Of course not, but it is a beginning. And the credit must go to the man who has, more or less on his own, and dressed impeccably too I might add, taken this issue forward to the point where an officer of the court wrote the following words to him:
With respect to your request for access to the court record, Madam Justice Bennett advises that you may attend at Court Registry in Vancouver to listen to the audio recording of the pre-trial conference which took place on August 21, 2007. As it was a pre-trial conference, no documents were filed. If you wish, you may also obtain a transcript of the August 21 pre-trial conference; however, you will be responsible for any fees charged in relation to the preparation of a transcript. Finally, if clerk's notes from the August 21, 2007 pre-trial conference were prepared, you may look at them.
A definite round of applause is in order. Whether this is the last battle in a long war, or merely a first victory on the way to a greater one remains to be seen, of course. It definitely feels like progress to me.
But here we have a portion of what some (apparently anonymous) officer of the court provided to Dr. Matthews at some, as far as I can tell, undisclosed time post August 21 apparently. Could Robin bring a digital recorder to his chance to listen to the audio of the pre-trial conference, or his own stenographer? That would be preferable as I've seen "official" transcripts that somehow turn out to be different than what was actually said. Or can I come and hear the conference if I could get to Vancouver?
Having been involved in court actions myself at various times I am aware of the practice of charging fees for the provision of copies of transcripts. I am also aware that often those fees are way out of line with the actual cost of providing them. But in this case even the right to pay possibly exorbitant fees for transcripts is a victory of sorts. Personally I fail to see any excuse for such transcripts from a trial that is involved with so much of the public interest not being published online. Then anyone who needs a hard copy can buy their own paper and toner and spend their own time printing and collating.
But maybe I'm just dreaming of some other idealized reality where social justice is normal.
I've actually been wondering about that 'recording' thing too. Neal Hall files a 'report' from the courtroom and yet, from reports I've had, Neal Hall was not IN the court.
Is this an example of a Jayson Blair kind of practice or, well, what do you think?
I can't imagine an ordinary member of the public being permitted to bring a recording device into the court....
Yep, there would go the tampered transcript tactic and the "I can't recall" defense.
Dear Anon 10:40,
Very interesting point about George MacIntosh. Thanks.
And would that be the case involving the "alleged real estate infractions" ... of the AG's bro???
And, regarding the following phrase from 'the letter':
"however, you will be responsible for any fees charged in relation to the preparation of a transcript"
I suggest we set up a Paypal account or some such thing so that we can impress upon the court that it is the 'people', not just one 'person' that wants, and indeed must, have this information if they are to remain an informed citizenry.
Nice idea, Gazetteer.
Ages ago, I said something similar to Robin. He immediately replied that if the financial burden became onerous, he would let me know ... of course, he never did, and the thought slipped into the background.
Now things in Supreme Court will begin to heat up, one way or another. Documentary evidence should be collected. And yes, you're right, there should be a fund.
Gee. Now what do I do? Aha ... now I begin to see why you suggested PayPal ... Any advice on how it would work?
As for the transcript, last I heard these were $1 per page with over 60 pages per hour. Certified copies are much more. Retrieving audios is easy; my $90 Panasonic digital recorder offloads 50 minutes of data in a couple of minutes. Software for transforming voice into text is less than $100.
As everyone knows, the Supreme Court of Canada broadcasts their proceedings. By creating onerous conditions for rceipt of public product judicial administrations reveal themselves to be anything but independent. The BC judiciary is a wing of the Liberal Party. Our AG is a former Appeals Court jerk.
Prof. Mathew's, through his quiet, ethical determination, has achieve a great victory here & I salute him.
Many thanks with oodles of admiration for BC Mary providing us all a focused place of justice where the truth can pour.
Thank you G. West for your insiteful commentary.
I am completely confident in stating my belief that where it comes to political rot, without full, public disclosure, the justice system would bury the truth in partnership with their incestuous, behind closed doors relationship with the government(s) in a nanosecond; deep into the bowels of the earth to protect the high & mighty. Persons who no more deserve to be in their positions of public trust than two bit crooks. They are 'high only because the people mistakenly put them there & only mighty until the shaky limbs they are on crash to the ground.
To echo what someone alluded elsewhere on the comments: the factual truth released for the publics' eyes, ears & ultimate judgment is the only antidote to corruption & true jusice.
Sadly, the media no longer plays a credible role in this regard. They have become part of the stench.
"The power of one is great - it becomes the power of many"
This site is a testament to that. High fives all round!!
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