THE BLOG

After Oscar Pistorius, Are We Ready for Televised Criminal Trials?

17/10/2014 17:11 BST | Updated 17/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The televising of court cases is upon us and is being universally welcomed by the media, most of our leading lawyers and the public. Justice should be seen to be done after all?

I am not so sure it is as simple as that. The OJ Simpson trial and more recently, the Oscar Pistorius case, cast up many questions.

Both cases involved the killing of beautiful women and well-known celebrities and surely their following was more about the insatiable appetite for gossip among the famous, than the public understanding how the legal system works, which is what is being claimed by legal commentators.

The public know what is right or wrong, do they really need to understand the complex system of remands, trials, appeals and judicial reviews?

My fear is the televised cases are only going to be those that draw in an audience because broadcasters are commercial animals. They need viewing figures.

Thus the celebrity jungle, which has become more and more unedifying in recent years, will have another wild beast out of control and out of kilter with reality.

Surely being on TV will put some witnesses off appearing and make others ham it up for the cameras... should we go the route of showing all the key players who appear before a judge.

Even if the rules dictate they are out of camera shot, witnesses will become celebrities overnight with the inevitable stampede by newspapers to interview them, photograph them (with permission) and learn every detail about their own backgrounds.

Lawyers will become publicly recognisable as was the case with the Leveson inquiry, yet we have in this country a profession that is revered around the world for its dignity, discretion and integrity. Will that change if a criminal brief becomes box office?

Let's be clear: television has so far only been allowed into the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Those courts are highly technical and as such, without being disparaging to those who work within them, very dull to the public.

It is the inevitable clamour for criminal cases to be screened that I am concerned about. That appetite is not driven by a desire to inform the public how the judicial system works, but by viewing figures and thus the rich and famous.

In the Oscar Pistorius case, the victim's parents have been the focus of the TV cameras as the full un-censored version of events unravelled in court. I for one had to switch it off. It is prurient, nosey, intrusive and not necessary to let the public feast on their misery. Vultures spring to mind.

In PR many clients will discuss the gossip of the day, while being horrified that someone else might be interested in their problems. Having a court case televised is the same - it is fine so long as it is someone else.

Phil Hall is Chairman of PR company PHA Media Ltd.