What does "in Camera" Mean?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In camera is a Latin phrase meaning “in private” or “in chambers” and it is used in law to refer to proceedings conducted without public access. While many legal systems place an emphasis on holding trial proceedings in public whenever possible, there can be special situations where proceedings need to be held confidentially. A judge can make a decision to hear an entire trial in camera, or to review certain arguments, documents, and evidence in private, while leaving other parts of the trial open to the public.

A hearing held in camera may require the removal of all observers from the courtroom, leaving only the participants and the judge.
A hearing held in camera may require the removal of all observers from the courtroom, leaving only the participants and the judge.

When the legal system generally requires trials to be held in public, clear justifications must be provided for moving proceedings to a private location. A common argument is a concern about national security in cases where evidence aired before the public could present a security threat. Companies may also request hearings in camera to protect trade secrets, under the argument that being forced to disclose such information in public is damaging and unfair. Confidentiality may also be extended to protect witnesses, including people at risk for their testimony, and young children who might be upset by being in a crowded courtroom with strangers.

A judge makes the decision to hear all or any part of a trial "in camera".
A judge makes the decision to hear all or any part of a trial "in camera".

Often, an in camera hearing or review is held in the judge's chambers. This environment is less formal and more comfortable for a small group, including the judge, the attorneys, and the witness or object under discussion. In other cases, a judge may make a request to clear the court of all members of the public and press, holding the proceedings in the courtroom.

Either side in a case can make a request to hold an entire trial or a part of a trial in camera, presenting arguments to support the request. The other side can respond if it feels the request is unreasonable. The judge will review the arguments presented and make a decision, considering the law, precedent, and the concerns raised by the parties in the case. If proceedings are held in camera, they are usually still recorded and can be referenced later.

The press and members of the public sometimes protest moves for confidentiality in a trial, arguing that the public has a right to know. Privacy-related decisions are sometimes viewed controversially, and judges may consider the potential for public outcry when weighing requests for in camera hearings and reviews. Ultimately, the judge must consider the best interests of the case and the parties involved when making a decision.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Does anyone know about the legality of blogging about the happenings of in camera proceedings as long as the involved are not named?


How funny! When I clicked on this article I thought it was going to be about digital camera features. You know, "in camera" editing and stuff like that? There are a lot more in camera features than there used to be, from what I understand.

Anyway, this article was really interesting though. I'm not that familiar with our justice system, so I've never heard the term "in camera" used to discuss legal proceedings. I've of course hear of legal proceedings that were closed to the public, but I don't think they use the term "in camera" much in the media.


@JaneAir - I see what you're saying, I do. However, I actually trust in our justice system. I think that even if a trial was held in private, things would still be done in a lawful manner. Also, I'm pretty sure there would be a record of the proceedings and some kind of administrative oversight. I think it would be difficult to subvert the justice system during a private proceeding.

Also, I think the article mentioned a lot of compelling reasons for an "in camera" proceedings. Think about witnesses who want to testify, but might be in danger for doing so. I think it would be perfectly valid to hear the witness' testimony in private in that case.


I don't think that any legal proceedings in the United States should ever be held "in camera." Our whole country is built on freedom and democracy-holding legal proceedings in private just seems like it's opposed to all of our values.

If a legal proceeding is held in public, how are we supposed to know that everything was done lawfully? It would be too easy to subvert the justice system to private agendas if a lot of trials were held in camera. I know there are some privacy concerns, but I just think this possibility is too dangerous to make any exceptions!

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