Should we allow cameras in courts?

by Ray_North on November 22, 2013

Unknown-4This week I found myself in the Court of Appeal – always a joy for a provincial Criminal Barrister, it’s like playing at Wembley or the Millennium Stadium, most of us even enjoy going down there even if we lose badly and get a bollocking from some crusty High Court Judge.

But, this week was a different experience again – this week was the first time I’d been to the Royal Courts of Justice since they started filming proceedings in October. As I sat waiting for my case to be heard it suddenly dawned on me, that, for the first time, my submissions might potentially be judged not just by the Bench and those in Court, but by many others watching on TV or the internet.

Did I enjoy the process?

To be honest, once my case was called on, as an advocate I quickly forgot about the cameras – in any event it was a very straightforward and not particularly exciting case. But, as I walked out of Court it dawned on me that cameras are not only here to stay, but will almost certainly spread from being allowed solely in the Court of Appeal to eventually being commonplace in Courts (Crown and County) all over the land.

Is it a good idea?

Yes, I think on balance it is. The old adage that justice must be seen to be done, has always sat uncomfortably with the refusal to have cameras in Courts. The arguments against are primarily that witnesses need to remain anonymous, and that should and will remain the case – giving evidence can be a tough experience at the best of times, without a witness feeling that their testimony is being given to the nation. It must be that a Judge retains the absolute discretion not to allow cameras in certain types of cases upon application from Counsel and that the CPS will have to canvas opinion from potential witnesses before they give their evidence.

Another argument against, has been that the general public shouldn’t be party to some of the more ‘peculiar’ goings on in Court as they may lead to a certain degree of cynicism with the system as a whole. I don’t agree with this – I think that the public are more than capable of understanding why a Judge has made a particular decision (just as long as the Judge explains it properly as they normally do), and, in fact, the people who criticise sentencing or issues of admissibility of evidence in Criminal cases may be assisted by seeing the system in practice rather than simply getting it second hand.

Traditionalists have also feared that putting cameras in Courts might actually lead to a diminishing of standards as barristers and judges concentrate more on their performance in front of the tele, rather than the pursuit of justice. They look at the high-profile trials in the States where the lawyers gained notoriety through showboating and juries seemed to see their role as players in a media event. I’m not sure of this either, most lawyers would be petrified of looking stupid in Court and would be more likely to raise their performance than risk a judicial dressing down in front of thousands. And, in any event, it’s not a bad thing for lawyers to have an appreciation of the theatre of court, something which is sadly lacking in many.

On the whole then, I’m in favour of television in courts – in this day and age, it seems absurd that they are not, whilst the increasing feeling of alienation that many feel for the nations institutions may be addressed if more people were able to watch their judicial process from the comfort of their own homes.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

George_East November 22, 2013 at 10:58 pm

I suspect we are very long way off televised trials. Cameras in appeals pose no problems at all though.

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