Gale`s View – Wednesday 25th April
More of the forthcoming Queen`s Speech later, but one of the items that looks as though it is back on the agenda is the proposed televising of our law courts.
Following the screening, last week, of a Scottish judge delivering sentence, the cry has gone up for limited” access for television cameras to show in the interests of transparency and democracy” the workings of our legal system. We already televise the Supreme Court” runs the argument and Parliamentary Select Committees and the Leveson inquiry into Press ethics, so why not the law courts”. And the fallback position is we would only show the Judge`s summing up and the sentence and nothing else”.
What arrant nonsense. This is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge that has nothing to do with democracy” or transparency” and everything to do with entertainment and showbusiness. It is motivated mainly by television companies who want to screen extracts from juicy” cases and by some lawyers who see a fee-improving opportunity to grandstand before the cameras.
In the Supreme Court, The Leveson Inquiry and in Select Committees people are not facing criminal charges and the loss of liberty through imprisonment. And to suggest that, if cameras are allowed into the law courts, they will only screen dry-as-dust Judges` summing up and sentence is pie in the sky. That is not what the Broadcasters want and it will not stop there. The Justice Secretary, The Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke, QC, has indicated in a parliamentary answer to my written question that taxpayers` money will not be used to pay for the televising of the courts. The funding will not come out of thin air and that means that the Broadcasters will have to pay. Those that are paying the fiddler call the tune – or, in this case, the shots. What the TV editors want is clips of evidence from high-profile murder, rape and terrorist cases held at the Old Bailey and that, I fear, is what we will end up with unless we put a stop to this now.
It has been said that other countries televise their courtrooms”. They do, and with adverse effects. We have seen very recently that the cameras had to be removed from a courtroom in Norway to prevent a mass-murderer from using the platform to advertise his extreme political views. Scottish advocates have expressed real concerns about the possibility of witnesses being intimidated, refusing to give evidence or simply not turning up for trials if their testimony is televised. I have anecdotal evidence from an American cameraman who was instrumental in establishing courtroom TV in the United States telling me of the manner in which televising has influenced witnesses, the accused and lawyers to disadvantage and many of us watched part of the three-ringed circus that was the OJ Simpson trial and, more recently, the trial of Michael Jackson`s Doctor.
Is this really what we want in the United Kingdom? I think not. Our courtrooms, at every level, are about justice or they are about nothing.. We have allowed too many of our institutions to become debased in the interest of populism. We must not allow that to happen to our Courts of Law.