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Public gets increased access to Pickton trial papers

Judge now allows rulings to be viewed

GLOBEANDMAIL
ROBERT MATAS

April 22, 2006

VANCOUVER -- The judge in the mammoth Pickton murder trial provided for increased public access yesterday, allowing members of the public to view rulings at the court registry that could not be published by the news media.

Robert Pickton is on trial for first-degree murder in the deaths of 26 women. Most of the women were prostitutes and drug addicts from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, one of Canada's most impoverished neighbourhoods. Mr. Pickton was arrested on Feb. 22, 2002, after several years of increasing alarm over women who had suddenly disappeared.

Mr. Justice James Williams of the B.C. Supreme Court is currently considering the admissibility of evidence. A jury for the trial is expected to be selected later this year.

The court proceedings are open to the public, but a court order prohibits the news media from reporting what happens during the so-called voir dire stage of the trial. The publication ban is intended to ensure that prospective jury members do not hear evidence outside the courtroom that may compromise Mr. Pickton's right to a fair trial.

Despite the precautions to restrict publication, Judge Williams has not read out the rulings in court in their entirety. Instead, he has notified the prosecution and defence teams directly of his decisions, which in effect means that the public does not find out what he decided or the basis for his decision.

Earlier this year, he allowed the news media to report that he had dismissed a 27th charge of murder against Mr. Pickton. But he permitted public access to only the final paragraph in a 46-paragraph ruling.

The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Canadian Press asked the court to provide public access to his rulings. The prosecution and defence teams expressed a concern about publication of his decisions.

Judge Williams said he accepted that the publication ban has been effective so far. "There is no principled basis upon which to deny access to the substance of the rulings," Judge Williams stated in a decision released yesterday.

However, he also emphasized that the existing bans on publication would continue. The rulings should be available for viewing, but no copies of the rulings will be released, he stated.

Globe and Mail

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Updated: August 21, 2016