Televised trials a good idea? Did you see the Pistorius trial, your honour?

Often during the trial, justice for the victim felt like an afterthought

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The Independent Online

If Lord Neuberger found the television coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial “impressive” he can’t have seen all of it.

Certainly not the prosecution’s brutal tactic of suddenly bringing up pictures of Reeva Steenkamp’s catastrophically wounded head onto the courtroom’s many screens, forcing the defendant to look at them.

This tactic also ensured millions of TV viewers of all ages were confronted with an image they may never forget. Ever since the prosecution pulled this stunt the television stream has been on a time delay to ensure it cannot happen again, but that doesn’t address other, more fundamental concerns about the coverage.

Like the crucial witnesses seemingly so overcome with nerves that they could barely speak. And others for whom the prospect of the TV cameras was almost certainly the crucial factor in their refusing to appear.

Not to mention the incident at the start, when the whole painstakingly fought-over television access agreement was almost thrown out when one broadcaster broke it by showing a picture of a witness who had exercised her right for her face not to be shown.

Yes, the public has a right to enter almost any courtroom in the land, and television is indeed the “natural extension” of that. Justice must be done, and must be seen to be done. But there was no shortage of occasions in that trial when the second principle almost overwhelmed the first.

A trial like that of Oscar Pistorius is a rare thing, but its central purpose is the same as any other: justice for the victim. Often, during the Pistorius trial, this felt like an afterthought. One important point though. Criminal law is an honourable profession, and it’s fair to imagine that prosecutor Gerrie Nel and defence lawyer Barry Roux, with their brilliant brains and brutalising articulacy, may have inspired many a young legal mind.

Tom Peck covered the Oscar Pistorius trial in Pretoria for The Independent. The judge is due to deliver his verdict on 11 September.