Leading article: Televising court cases is in the interests of enhanced justice

The presence of cameras would go a long way to improving public confidence in the system

Share

It is easy to be dismissive of the idea that courts should be televised. A few references to bread and circuses, the public stocks, and an interactive red button to allow the viewers to vote on the sentence should do the trick. Or a sneer about how we already have televised justice in the form of programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show. But such a response would be mistaken because there is in fact much to be said for the idea of opening our judicial system to the wider scrutiny of public view.

Allowing television cameras into court may be an extension of the "name-and-shame" impulse felt by backwoodsmen of the Conservative Party – and in pushing for the changes, television's pursuit of ratings must be acknowledged – but there remain persuasive arguments for the idea from the progressive and liberal tradition of modern politics. The arguments against televising the judiciary are pretty much the same as those deployed by opponents of televising the legislature. It took 20 years of debate to allow cameras into Parliament but few would now deny that it has proved a real advance in increasing public awareness of the political process.

The courts are the last bastion of English public life to remain sequestered from the gaze of the public when it comes to the technology which dominates modern life. Of course any member of the public can walk into the public gallery of a courtroom at present to witness the proceedings. But geography, space and time all unnecessarily limit the degree of public transparency, and thereby accountability, that can at present be upheld. The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, spoke yesterday of the need to demystify the judicial process but what is required is much more. Cameras in courts could go a long way to upholding or indeed improving public confidence in the justice system.

In part that is to do with understanding. If the public saw prosecutors making the case and defence lawyers critiquing it, and then heard the judge summing up they would have much greater faith in what goes on in court.

Televising proceedings would also place a greater obligation on judges to deliver fair and consistent decisions. Disparities in sentencing have been a controversial feature of the aftermath of the riots that flared across England last month, with prison governors, lawyers, community leaders and human rights campaigners all raising questions about the severity and even-handedness of some of the punishments handed out. The presence of cameras in court would surely limit the scope for magistrates to go too far their own way in handing down sentences, whether light or heavy.

Of course there are dangers. Lawyers might on occasion play to the court of public sympathy, much as some do now to the smaller audience of the jury. There might be a temptation for television to select certain judges – Cherie Booth, the wife of the former prime minister, springs to mind – for special scrutiny, and if we ended up with the judiciary on trial that would be very damaging. There might be occasions when cameras might make a witness extra nervous and less credible as a result. But it should not be beyond the wit of the legal authorities to guard against such problems, and in any case judges should retain the right to direct that the cameras be shut down for parts of a trial.

The introduction of cameras to courts is a far more radical suggestion than, say, the occasionally mooted discontinuation of the flummery of wigs and gowns on the grounds that they overawe ordinary people. It is understandable, therefore, that Mr Clarke wants to proceed cautiously, beginning with only the judgments in the Court of Appeal before extending coverage to Crown Courts later. But the arguments for far greater openness are clear. Justice must not just be done but must be seen to be done – and as widely as modern technology makes possible.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable