Academic journal article Nottingham Law Journal

R. V. Sussex Justices, Ex Parte McCarthy: Should There Be Cameras in Court?

Academic journal article Nottingham Law Journal

R. V. Sussex Justices, Ex Parte McCarthy: Should There Be Cameras in Court?

Article excerpt




At the London 2012 Olympics, Oscar Pistorius found himself staring down a camera lens at millions of spectators during the 4 x 400m final. Less than two years later, he was staring down a camera in an entirely different situation--as a defendant in a murder trial. Following the decision by the High Court of Pretoria that the trial of Pistorius was to be shown live on television, it is necessary to examine the implications of this type of broadcast on the UK's legal system. This article will investigate the use of cameras in courts from both a legal and social perspective, and also consider the repercussions of following in the footsteps of jurisdictions like South Africa and the US by broadcasting trials live on television. It will be argued that whilst there are logical arguments for the use of cameras in court, including a more transparent judiciary, such arguments do not match the true motivations of televising hearings and would ultimately lead to the conversion of trials into entertainment spectacles, which could potentially affect the impartiality of the courts.

The Case For Cameras In Courts

Since the passing of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, which prohibited the taking of photographs in court, developments in both technology and the law related to it have been significant. Following the Crime and Courts Act 2013, television cameras were permitted into the Courts of England and Wales in cases such as that of Kevin Fisher, who was appealing against a sentence for his role in a plot to counterfeit pound coins. Despite these advancements, UK television schedules have yet to see the kind of cases like those witnessed in South Africa with Pistorius, or in the US with American football star O.J. Simpson.

This begs the question, why have the UK Courts been seemingly left behind by other jurisdictions? To answer this, the purpose behind televising court trials must first be ascertained. The statement of Lush J.J. that "justice should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done" (1) was made in the context of a country without widespread television broadcasts, mobile phones or social media. However, it still has relevance today. One of the principal reasons put forward for using cameras in courts is that it gives the UK public greater access to its legal system, in order to increase confidence in the judiciary. This concept was advocated by Lord Neuberger in his report to the Judicial Studies Board in 2011. (2) He argued that the public scrutiny of court proceedings is essential in preserving the rule of law, in that it allows "transparency and engagement" in UK courts. (3) Many examples can be offered where such a demand for transparency would have existed in the UK, such as during the trials of the MP's who misused their parliamentary expenses in 2009, or during the hearings of those involved with the News International phone-hacking scandal in 2011. In a report by the Department of Constitutional Affairs it was highlighted that a further motivation for those who support the televising of trials was the idea of "open justice". (4) Respondees were influenced by a belief that they had experienced an injustice within the court system which may have been exposed had their trials been televised. (5) Clearly, public scrutiny of courts is necessary in the functioning of an impartial legal system and, therefore, the permission of cameras into courts to some extent should be permitted. For example, it is understandable that the general public should be able to see courtrooms and some of the processes that take place during hearings. Nonetheless, questions arise as to the extent of this access and particularly whether the live broadcasting of trials would take open justice beyond a level that would benefit the judicial system. …

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