Lights, Camera, Action…

The idea of cameras being allowed in courtrooms provokes different reactions and opinions across the board of interested parties; broadcasters, lawyers and the public.

Broadcasters have been lobbying for the prohibition set in 1925 and 1981, which in itself contradicts the idea of ‘open justice’, to be lifted. The principle of open justice is to provide the general public with the option of viewing trials, information from court files and databases which is parallel to the intended purposes of broadcasters wanting the aforementioned prohibition to be lifted. Television is proven to be one of the most readily available and dominant uses of media in the UK,  being the most effective in relaying information to the public in comparison to other forms of media. In regards to Criminal Law, this begs the question, if anyone can publically view an ongoing trial in Court, the presentation of witness evidence, opening and closing statements from Counsel, and Juries’ decisions – what difference is having the Judges’ summing up, final remarks and sentencing being televised live, as opposed to viewing it in the court room itself? It is arguable that there is no such difference, except that the person in the court room will view the trial in its entirety hearing witness evidence a television viewer would not, as it is proposed for measures to be put in place so that these parts of the trials would not be broadcast.

Research in New Zealand shows that witnesses who know their evidence will be broadcast are less likely to give evidence in Court, and evidence given was more likely to be affected. However, as it would only be Judges’ summing up, final remarks and sentencing being broadcast, this should reduce concerns that witnesses’, counsel and Judges will “play up” to the cameras. It also negates any idea that we may have “celebrity Judges” and the Justice System would become ‘glamorised’ and a media frenzy as has happened in other cases. In particular, in the United States where it has been used for entertainment purposes, such as “Judge Judy”, and alleged unfair editing may portray a certain perspective on a Defendant, as found by Roberta Enter, where editing of the courtroom footage can make a case more sympathetic towards the claimant or portrays the defendant negatively. Shows like this give the viewer an insight as to what the Judicial system and a career in Law is like providing perceptions to the general public of what actually happens within a court room. When in reality, a lot of these cases wouldn’t make it to Court nor be allowed in Court due to their nature, thus creating an incorrect perception.  If the public were able to readily access information or watch real, live cases in real-time, without having to personally sit in a courtroom, they may gain a better understanding of the legal system, how decisions are made and why a certain sentence applies. This would also be helpful for people who can’t physically attend the courts during their 9am to 4pm opening hours due to their own work commitments during the same hours. By televising court room cases, in much the same manner as with the BBC Parliament channel, those people would be able to record and watch certain cases whenever they so choose, or see cases if a station were to air pre-recorded cases.

Public confidence in the Justice System will improve, with greater general awareness of the Legal System and gaining a further understanding of the way Justice works. Through seeing sentencing take place, the public may not agree with a sentence and could protest for a change in the Law, especially with out-dated laws, in order to reflect modern times. Those who write the Law tend to be middle-class men from similar educational backgrounds, surely the public, who are affected by the law on a daily basis, even buying a newspaper means you are entering into a contractual agreement, should have a say in how the law should be changed or written?. To have the mass provoke a change, surely this can only be a good thing and could prevent potential bias occurring in Judgements and Sentencing. Ironically, s41 Criminal Justice Act 1925 is out-dated; this was written for the intention of still photographs and before television was even invented!

Since the opening of The Supreme Court in October 2009, cameras have been fixed in Court rooms, enabling the public to view different cases being heard at the same time throughout the Court. Judges who sit in the Courts mainly express positive opinion on the presence of the cameras, and furthermore suggest that there could be something to gain from cameras in the lower Courts. A survey of 700 Barristers was conducted, with the majority favouring the move even suggesting their opening and closing speeches are included – not currently part of the Government proposal.

The UK is lagging behind other countries by not allowing cameras into their courts. Our neighbours Scotland have allowed filming to take place in court, since the early nineties with success, albeit, with strict regulations. The United States have allowed cameras in their courts since the mid-nineties through 47 of their 50 States.

Other Countries are doing it. Lawyers want it. It is in the public interest. The media are willing to broadcast it, without making a profit. Surely it is time for the Judiciary to make a positive change?

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About ambaroyle

Full time LJMU Law student. View all posts by ambaroyle

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