Lord Hope, the Lord President, Scotland's senior judge, in effect opened Scotland's courtroom doors to the cameras when he announced, through the Principal Clerk of the Justiciary in Edinburgh's supreme courts, that modern technology had now advanced to a state 'where proceedings in court could be televised without undue interference in the conduct of proceedings'.
The Clerk's office that said Lord Hope had been considering the television question for some time and now believed it was not in the public's long-term interest for restrictions to remain.
The Faculty of Advocates, the equivalent of English barristers, welcomed the revolutionary announcement, stating it would 'enhance the openness of the courts'. The Bar Council in England and Wales also backed the Scottish move. However, Jonathan Caplan QC, chairman of the council's public affairs committee, pointed out the difficulty should the rest of Britain's legal community not follow the Scots' lead, creating a 'bizarre situation'.
The criterion for television, according to Lord Hope, will be whether the presence of cameras 'would be without risk to the administration of justice'. Thus the televising of criminal and civil cases will still not be permitted, for fear that juries or witnesses might be influenced by the cameras' presence.
However, 'subject to satisfactory arrangements', mainly concerning camera placings and lighting, the televising of appeals in both criminal and civil cases may now go ahead 'with the approval of the presiding judge'.
Although Lord Hope's announcement will be regarded as another major victory for broadcasting after the success of televising Parliament, lawyers in Scotland are likely to regard cameras as adding further pressure to an already pressured job.
The Scottish Council for Civil Liberties said last night that it viewed Lord Hope's decision with concern. Its statement read: 'For many people, going to court is already a traumatic, formidable, miserable and embarrassing experience, and the televising of proceedings may instil a public dread which could deter victims and witnesses from getting involved in the system in the first place.'
A period of 'investigation and experiment', including negotiations between broadcasting organisations and Scotland's senior legal officers, will now take place.