in camera | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Courts

In camera is a Latin term in law referring to a proceeding or part of a proceeding that happens privately in a judge’s chambers, away from the jury and the public.

As we delve into the understanding of in camera, it’s essential to know its root. “In camera” comes from Latin, where “in” means “in” and “camera” translates to “chamber.” In legal terms, when a matter is dealt with “in camera,” it is discussed in private, often in the judge’s chambers. This setup is quite different from regular court proceedings, which are open to the public.

When is In Camera Used?

There are various instances when legal matters are handled “in camera.” For instance, this might be applicable when sensitive information is discussed that might infringe on an individual’s privacy or national security. This can range from details related to minors to classified government information.

Advantages of In Camera Proceedings

Being “in camera” offers several advantages. First, it protects sensitive or confidential information from public exposure. This is particularly critical in cases involving minors or highly confidential issues that, if revealed, could have negative repercussions.

Second, “in camera” discussions can provide a less intimidating environment for individuals who might be uncomfortable testifying in an open courtroom. This includes children or victims of abuse, for example.

Drawbacks of In Camera Proceedings

Despite its benefits, this approach is not without controversy. Critics argue it infringes on the principle of transparency, a core pillar of most judicial systems. They contend that justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done. Hence, conducting a matter in this way might create the perception that the process is not fair or unbiased.

The Role of the Judge

The decision to move proceedings behind closed doors is generally at the discretion of the judge. Judges must balance the need for transparency with the need to protect sensitive information or individuals. This balance is crucial in maintaining trust in the judicial system.


In summary, “in camera” refers to private proceedings, usually in the judge’s chambers, away from the jury and the public eye. While it plays a crucial role in maintaining privacy and encouraging candid discussion, it must be balanced with the need for transparency in the justice system. It is, therefore, a tool used judiciously by the court to uphold the principles of justice.

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Last Modified: 05/22/2023

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