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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Photos In Court (NSW)


In almost all circumstances, taking photos is banned in courts in New South Wales. The use of recording devices in courts is governed by the Court Security Act 2005. Anyone who contravenes the rules contained in the Act can be charged with contempt of court, a serious offence.

Taking photos

Section 9 of the Act prohibits the use of a recording device to record sound or images or both in court premises. It does not prohibit the use of a device for other purposes, such as the use of a mobile phone to make a phone call.

“Court” means all courts in NSW. “Court premises” includes a forecourt, courtyard, yard, car park, toilet, hall, corridor, entrance and exit, as well as any part of the premises or place used for court operations that are also used for other purposes.

“Recording device” means any device that can record images or sound or both, including a:

  • camera, including a video camera;
  • a mobile phone;
  • a tape recorder or digital audio recorder;
  • a portable document scanner.

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 200 penalty units ($22,000) or imprisonment for 12 months, or both.

The section does not apply when the use of the device:

  • has been expressly permitted by a judicial officer;
  • involves a lawyer recording their own voice on court premises other than where the court is sitting;
  • is for the purpose of transcribing court proceedings for the court;
  • is by a journalist on court premises but outside the court building, for the purpose of making a media report;
  • is allowed by regulations made under the Act.

The same maximum penalty applies to a person who transmits or distributes the photos taken, unless the transmission or distribution:

  • has been expressly permitted by a judicial officer;
  • is for the purpose of transcribing court proceedings for the court;
  • is allowed by regulations made under the Act.

Transmitting photos from the courtroom

It is an offence to transmit photos from where a court is sitting to any person or place outside that room. This includes via posting the photos  on social media or other websites, or otherwise publishing them on the internet. The maximum penalty is 200 penalty units ($22,000) or imprisonment for 12 months, or both.

The exceptions to this include when the transmission of images:

  • by an audio-visual link or other technology, from a place to where the court is sitting, has been expressly permitted by a judicial officer;
  • is in another way that has been expressly permitted by a judicial officer;
  • is for the purpose of transcribing court proceedings for the court at a place outside where court is sitting;
  • involves a lawyer using a tablet computer or similar device to send images only to another lawyer;
  • is allowed by regulations made under the Act.

If a person is charged with an offence, the onus is on the person to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that they had a reasonable excuse for committing the offence.

Case example

In 2011, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the case of a 30-year-old woman who was charged with contempt of court for taking photos at Downing Centre Local and District Court.

The woman had used her mobile phone to take photos of the jury, which included her best friend’s husband. A jury member sent a note alerting the judge, who charged the woman. Her phone was confiscated, she was addressed by the judge, bailed, instructed to seek a lawyer, and ordered to provide her fingerprints to police.

The identity of jurors is protected by law, and the woman cannot be named so as not to identify the juror.

The same judge who charged the women eventually dismissed the charge against her, stating she had been charged due to the seriousness of the offence, but that he was satisfied her photography “… involved no nefarious purpose. It was simply … to mark the occasion”.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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