Cameras in our courts

This post stems from the report in The Telegraph about allowing TV cameras in court to record sentencing. What will today’s TV make of it? Hmm…

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls to ‘Brucie’s Play your courts right!!!’

Now, today we have a young rapscallion who’s been a naughty boy! Standard tariff says two years in a young offenders institution. Do we say higher or lower?? Lower?!?! Higher?!? Higher?! You say higher!!! What does the judge say!?!

Ohhhhhhh!!!!! The judge says lower!!! Let off with a suspended sentence and a six month behavioural order! The tabloids will be outraged by that one.

On to our next rogue – and this one really is a nasty piece of work! You really don’t want to know what this piece of scum did! Standard tariff, five years – what will this judge say? He has a reputation for being a tough sentencer! What are we saying!?!? Higher!?! Anyone for lower?!? Yes – there are one or two of you saying lower – must be the token woolly liberals in the audience! Hearing big shouts for higher!!! Anymore for higher!?!? What does the judge say!?!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEsssssssssssssssss!!!

The judge locks the door and throws away the key – 15 years due to aggravating circumstances! We like this no-nonsense judge!

Well, time for a break now, but remember that for those of you at home, you can play along with ‘Play your courts right bingo’ game – will you be the lucky person to win Brucie’s Bingo Bonanza?!?! Our top prize is your very own prison run on your behalf by our sponsors, Group4Security! You get to set the prison regime. Think prison is a holiday camp?! You can change this at your very own prison!

The above of course is a complete spoof – though stranger things have happened.

I can see why politicians want to increase the public’s knowledge of how the legal system works. Ditto with the political system. However, I have big concerns on how this will be delivered. Juries have to sit through entire court cases before passing their verdict – with very good reason. Those watching TV footage of sentencing will not have seen much of the evidence. Without having seen the evidence and the arguments laid out as before a court, how can viewers come to a fair and reasonable judgement on the individual being sentenced – because that is more than likely what people will do. After all, we all make judgements and give opinions on what we saw on television – for many of us this is part of our social conversations that make our non-working worlds go round.

This in effect gives us three choices:

  1. Broadcast entire trials live
  2. Broadcast nothing
  3. Broadcast footage AFTER the trials have concluded

The problem with 1) is a straight-forward contempt of court issue. The restrictions on reporting are there for good reason. (i.e. to ensure fair trial). Well-moderated UK-based message boards in general clamp down on anything that looks like it could be contempt of court with regards to commenting on live trials. 

The problem with 2) in the digital media world is that relying on the pastel sketches of scenes in courts (fascinating as they are) has a feel of being something of the last millennium. With the internet and digital media moving ahead at such a fast pace, how can the legal system catch up?

While 3) avoids the problem of contempt of court issues associated with broadcasting a live trial, there will inevitably be issues with the rolling agenda of the news cycle. Releasing footage after a trial has been concluded may not be compatible with how people choose to receive/search for their news.

I don’t know what the answer is to the question of whether or not we should have cameras in our courts. I don’t know nearly enough about our legal system to make detailed points on the principles and the processes. I hope that this blogpost will give some food for thought.


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