Currently, it is illegal to take photos and broadcast/film a Crown Court case in the UK. This has been a law since 1925 under code 41 of the Criminal Justice Act and the Contempt of Court Act 1981. In March 2016, Justice minister Shailesh Vara announced a pilot scheme, to run for three months, allowing television cameras into Crown Courts to record the comments made by judges while sentencing. As this is a new concept for the UK, and a controversial one at that, it has to be properly thought through if there ever was a change in the law. There are many reasons this introduction could improve the courtrooms, however, there are also reasons for why it could cause a serious negative effect on how they are run by reducing the pursuit of justice to the level of a soap opera such as Judge Judy. In this essay, I will be evaluating the pros and cons of a permanent introduction of cameras into UK courtrooms.
A key argument for the introduction of a camera is that television is now a big part of society and everyday life. Due to the fact that on average we watch 3.7 to 4.8 hours of television a week1, it seems as though the public has become so accustomed to television that the presence of television camera in the courtroom would not distract from the pursuit of justice. The use of cameras in courtrooms has, for a long time, been legal in the US. Bill Sheaffer, an attorney in Florida, thinks that a camera being used in the justice system has been successful, he said that “Since the early 1990s, all 50 states have some form of cameras in court. But there are very rarely any problems. Cameras are stationary and unobtrusive and things are unfolding at a fairly clipped place.” 2Modern technology has made television camera equipment less obvious and intimidating, so the presence of cameras in the court itself would not be obtrusive.
Just knowing that you are being filmed can make you behave differently which means witnesses and almost everyone else may change. It could be argued that this will be a change for the better by the court participants behaving in a more professional manner. However, the cameras could also have the reverse effect and cause people to change for the worse by ‘acting up’ in front of the cameras to try to get noticed, this would reduce the pursuit of justice to the level of a soap opera. This could also affect the lawyers who are in the trial and they could be tempted to play to the television cameras rather than focus on the actual case at hand.
A case study to look at which truly showed the effect of cameras in the courtroom is the case of OJ Simpson. The defence attorney in this case was Dean Uelmen, who is also a law professor shared his concerns on the cameras being included in trial as he ‘had witnesses did not want to testify because they didn’t want to be subjected to be on national television’ 3. Although most cases on television won’t be as watched by the public, this issue of witnesses not wanting to testify could still be a massive issue for the day to day cases. However, after the trial Uelmen felt like the cameras presence actually improved the justice of the trial as it caused more witnesses to come forward with information during the trial due to the TV coverage. Therefore, I would say that although there is a risk of witnesses not wanting to testify, the possible gain of new information for the cases would be worth it for the justice system.
There has always been a sense of distrust between the public and the courts which could be rectified by the introduction of cameras into court rooms. By expanding the trials audience with the use of camera, the public will have the opportunity to scrutinise what occurs in them that might not be fair in the case. Which could build the public’s confidence with the court as they can see what is going ‘behind the scenes’, as well as having more respect for the judicial process itself. Furthermore, the publics knowledge of the justice system as by watching the programmes they will gain knowledge of the words used in the law as well as the law itself, with little to no effort on their half just by doing something that is in their everyday life. Meaning they will be more likely to want to watch the programmes benefiting the justice system.
One of the main reasons for cameras not to be introduced is that it would put normal people’s lives in spotlight, possibly without choice. With trials such as rape trials the government has already said that the victim would not testify on camera in front of the public due to them having life time anonymity under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. But, there are some cases which are not that extreme but could have serious consequences on the people involved if televised. There is a serious risk of threats and abuse for those involved which would not be in the best interest for justice and the judicial system would lose control of its own proceedings. A solution to this would be for there to be a law covering those involved for facial or name anonymity to protect them from the possible backlash from the public.
Overall, I would say that the introduction of cameras into courtroom proceedings does have a substantial amount of risks, but with some adaptions to how the cameras are specifically used and handled. If this can happen then it is a good idea as it will not only educate the public on the law and gain their confidence, but also increase the amount of information on cases which have little to nothing to work with, which would change the judicial system for the better.
1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/487130/average-tv-viewing-time-per-day-uk/ Information obtained via world wide web. Last accessed 31st December
2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17691667 Information obtained via world wide web. Last accessed 31st December
3 Cohn, Marjorie, and David Dow. Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice. Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.