As a lawyer practising in the UK, Ireland and California I welcomed last year's amendment to the Crime and Courts Act to allow TV cameras to be introduced into UK courts. I agree with Lord Chief Justice Hewart when he said "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."
But so far cameras have only been allowed the luxury of limited coverage in English Courts for Appeal Courts and Judicial Pronouncements. But we're not allowed to see the defining moments in arriving at a verdict if a witness breaks down under cross-examination, or the accused's emotions. Let alone have the public see the process of law and learn more about it. We can read about it in the newspaper reports and indeed, thanks to Lord Chief Justice's ruling in the Julian Assange hearing in 2010, journalists are now allowed to tweet directly from the courtroom. So why are broadcasters being left behind twitter? And why is England lagging behind the rest of the world?
The Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa and the OJ Simpson trial in the US are perhaps examples at the more dramatic end of the scale but they do provide an understanding as to how unexpected decisions are reached if people see the actual legal process in action and can form their own judgment;
I know that many in the judicial system worry about the intrusion of cameras in the courtroom but in the age of Twitter and other social networking sites, it has become more difficult for the judicial authorities to maintain public confidence and control online reporting. I would probably suggest that it is perhaps better to swap the accuracy of the cameras to the gossip of Facebook;
As Simon Bucks, Associate Editor of Sky News put it "The prospect of a Pistorius television trial in Britain seems unlikely. Nevertheless, the Pistorius coverage has contributed to the debate. The judge who allowed it to be televised explained that giving South Africans a chance to view the trial would help dispel the "negative and unfounded perceptions" that the justice system treats "the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and vulnerable". Most people agree the television coverage achieved that. We saw South African justice in action, first-hand, something that would be impossible in Britain. Indeed, we may now know more about the workings of South African courts than we do about our own. As Lord Neuberger says, how can the public have confidence in the judges if nobody can see them at work?"
As a lawyer I believe in the British legal systems and am proud of the legal system and also the growing requirement for mediation before litigation. I firmly believe that the transparency provided by televised court proceedings will let the public see what witnesses have to go through, on both sides, if a case goes into Court. Who knows it may encourage the public to consider mediation or even early settlement of civil cases and possibly a deterrent in some criminal cases?
And what about victims - we hear more and more that the victims of crime feel disenfranchised by the leniency of some sentences - might this transparency help them witness that an attempt [at least] has been made to bring the guilty to account;
And it's not as though we have no experience of television cameras in courts. We have had cameras in a range of British judicial and parliamentary inquiries - Hutton, Chilcot, and Leveson to name a few. These have been live on TV allowing viewers to come to their own judgment about the quality of the evidence. The sky hasn't fallen in with the entry of cameras in court.
In the Oscar Pistorius trial we saw, at first hand, the South African justice system in action. One could say that viewers in Britain now know more about the workings of South African courts than we do about our own.