News media and the courts in Canada

JOUR3333.01 / JOUR5333.01

Winter Term, Tuesdays, 1835-2025 hrs, KTS Lecture Hall, New Academic Building



JOUR3333.01 / JOUR5333.01

Winter Term, Tuesdays, 1835-2025 hrs, KTS Lecture Hall, New Academic Building

Lecturer: Christine Doucet

Contact information: 222-1764 (cell)

Office Hours: I don’t keep regular office hours, but am happy to meet with you or answer your questions by phone or email. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Required Reading:

1. Media Law for Canadian Journalists, by Dean Jobb

2. A Compendium of Law and Judges, B.C. Supreme Court website: (NOTE: selected sections only, to be assigned throughout the term)

NOTE: Additional reading materials will be assigned during the semester as required.

Assignments and Marking:

1) Mid-term exam, to be written during regular class time on February 12, 2008, based on material covered up to and including the lecture scheduled for Week 5. Mark: 30%.

2) Final exam, to be written during regular class time on March 25, 2008, based on material covered from Weeks 7 to 10 inclusive. Mark: 30%.

3) An 800-word news story based on a mock trial staged Friday, March 28. Deadline noon Monday, March 31. Mark: 40%.

The Fine Print:

There are no extensions without prior approval from the instructor. If an assignment is late, it must be submitted to the instructor directly or to Kelly Porter, who will time-stamp the submission. One-third of a letter grade will be deducted for each day it is late, for up to three days. After that, the mark will be zero.

Assignments require the sacrifice of trees — electronic submissions will NOT be accepted.

In order to complete the final assignment, attending the mock trial is MANDATORY — with rare exceptions, good excuses simply aren’t good enough, because there is no way to replicate this assignment. If you have a conflict that precludes your attendance FOR THE ENTIRE DAY on Friday, March 28, raise it with the instructor now…but please be advised: you may have to withdraw from the course.

Surely you know by now that plagiarism — whether it be the presentation of the work of another author OR submission of your own work for which you have previously received academic or professional credit — is a serious academic offence. Ignorance of the law is no excuse: you are presumed to understand and accept the university’s policy with respect to plagiarism, set out in the King’s calendar and the Dalhousie calendar.

Students with disabilities seeking academic accommodation must register with Student Accessibility Services by phoning 494-2836, emailing, or visiting the Accessibility Services Office, located in Room G28 of the Killam Library.


Week 1, January 8: An overview of the course and the Canadian justice system

An overview of the Canadian justice system, the role of precedent, how courts are structured, and the impact of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Readings: Jobb text, Chapter 1; Compendium, Chapter 8, up to and including Section 2 – Fundamental Freedoms.

Week 2, January 15: Open justice: An introduction to justice system reportage and a question: What kind of legal affairs reporter will you be?

An examination of the media’s role in scrutinizing the courts.

Readings: Jobb text, Chapter 2, pp. 29-50, and Chapter 3; Compendium Chapters 9 (“Criminal law”), 10 (“Criminal law evidence”), 12 (“Criminal law defences”), 21 (“Young offenders”), and 24 (“Parole”).

Week 3, January 22: A criminal justice primer and an overview of how journalists cover criminal courts

A step-by-step examination of how criminal cases unfold. The role of judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers and how each deals with the media will be examined.

Readings: Jobb text, Chapter 4; Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service website: which sets out “The Role of the PPS”, “The Crown Attorney’s Job”, “Seeking Justice: Conviction or Acquittal”, “Responsibility to the Victim” and “Appealing a Decision”

Week 4, January 29: The civil side

Criminal cases tend to capture the headlines, but much of the work of the courts is on the civil side, so we’ll examine how civil cases progress through the courts.

Readings: Jobb text, Chapter 2, pp. 51-57.

Week 5, February 5: Publication bans

To journalists, they’re the rules that can get in the way of a perfectly good story — publication bans are limits on reporting set out in the Criminal Code and Youth Criminal Justice Act, or bans made by a judge in response to the facts of a specific case.

Readings: Jobb text, Chapters 6 and 7.

Week 6, February 12: mid term exam

* * * Break – February 18-22 * * *

Week 7, February 26: Access to the courts and legal research

How open are the courts, and under what circumstances can journalists use cameras, tape recorders and computers in the courtroom? Where can you go to get the information you need to do your job?

Readings: Jobb text, Chapter 8; N.S. Courts Media Guidelines; online at:

Week 8, March 4: Defamation

The lecture you can’t afford to miss…how not to get sued. This class will introduce the basics of defamation law and what journalists need to know to avoid expensive legal problems.

Reading: Jobb text, Chapter 9.

Week 9, March 11: Contempt of court

Contempt of court is an elusive concept — we’ll review the law of contempt as it stands and the ways in which it limits reporting on crimes and criminal cases.

Reading: Jobb text, Chapter 5.

Week 10, March 18: Putting it all together

Protecting sources, legal ethics and other issues

We’re not done yet…we still have to briefly explore issues such as invasion of privacy, trespass, and whether a journalist can keep a promise of confidentiality to a source. We’ll tie up loose ends, explore how court coverage can be improved, and review techniques for covering court in anticipation of the mock trial assignment.

Reading: Jobb text, Chapter 10, 13.

Week 11, March 25: Final Exam


April 1: No class.