Cameras in Court: Fair of Farce

Fri, 10 Feb 2012

Earlier this week the country’s 3 largest media organisations wrote to the prime minister urging parliament to lift the ban on cameras in court. Currently, the only court proceedings that can be filmed are certain cases in the Supreme Court. 
 
The principle argument for allowing cameras into court is to increase public confidence in the justice system. However, those of us regularly appearing in the family courts will recall the way in which the sound of trumpets heralded the arrival of the rules allowing the press into court for the first time 3 years ago. Well that was a damp squib wasn’t it? If your experiences are similar to mine, and everyone else I have ever discussed it with, you may have seen 1 or 2 reporters during the first couple of weeks of the rule change and not a single reporter since. Why? Well I would hazard a guess that, for the most part, what we do in court is simply not that newsworthy. Further, if witnesses in the family courts thought that their neighbours and colleagues could learn all about their most intimate and private business, they would not be prepared to say anything to the court. How would that assist the administration of justice?
 
In reality, the current debate focuses on criminal cases rather than family cases but it’s a slippery slope. The criminal justice system isn’t mistrusted owing to a lack of cameras, it’s mistrusted because the general public perceive sentencing decisions are unfair. What the public often forget, or perhaps don’t know, is that many judge’s handing out sentences think that the shackles placed upon them, in terms of their sentencing powers, by parliament are unfair. Cameras are not going to solve this problem.
 
Perhaps we need to learn from the American experience. The judge in the Michael Jackson trial specifically disallowed the trial to be televised owing to the debacle that ensued during the OJ Simpson criminal trial. How many American citizens had their confidence in the justice system renewed after watching the OJ Simpson’s trial?
 
Camera’s in court will inevitably lead to people involved in televised cases not acting naturally nor with the degree of frankness necessary to achieve justice for fear of being judged by public opinion. When public opinion can lead to a paediatrician having his home attacked because some mindless idiots misunderstood that he helped children rather than abused them, the judging of individuals in the justice system needs to be left to those selected to do it.
 

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