Cameras in Courtrooms
Should cameras be placed in courtrooms so that criminal trials can be televised?
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In a democratic society, people have a right of access to courts. Anyone can sit in the public galle...
In a democratic society, people have a right of access to courts. Anyone can sit in the public gallery and watch a part or the whole of a trial, or appeal. In Britain the public are even allowed to attend the highest court in the land, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, just as anyone can watch the Supreme Court of the United States in session. There is therefore no constitutional reason why trials should not be televised. However, at the moment only a few people can take advantage of their rights. As courts sit during the week, it is difficult for people in full-time employment to watch a trial. Travelling to courts across the country is costly. The galleries for the public have only a limited number of spaces. Visitors to well- publicised trials often have to arrive several hours in advance of the hearing in order to ensure a seat. We should not have to make such sacrifices of time and money in order to enjoy our democratic rights. In addition, the events in court are often difficult for non-lawyers to understand. Coverage on television could include a commentary that would make watching a trial a more profitable and educational experience. In the age of the television, and even the internet, we should utilise modern technology to enhance the rights of the citizens.
There is a clear tension between the democratic right of the people at large to watch a trial, and the liberty of the defendant in any given case. It is a fundamental precept of many legal systems that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. By showing the defendant on television, the general public will be able to reach conclusions about guilt or innocence that may not be reflected in the final verdict of the jury. People will tend to assume that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ – although this principle cannot properly be applied to the criminal justice system. Although the identity of alleged victims of certain crimes are protected by law, the judge in a criminal trial rarely orders that the defendant should remain anonymous. In fact, it would be unlikely that the trial of a defendant whose identity was protected would be televised, as much of the audience and human interest is derived from the behaviour of this central character in the courtroom. By enlarging the constitutional right of access we will be pre-judging the defendant. He will be exposed to public reaction that might be wholly unjustified if he is subsequently acquitted. Even if he is found not guilty, the publicity he has already suffered may ruin his chances of future employment or anonymity. This would be contrary to the principle of rehabilitation that is at the core of penal policy. In short the rights of the defendant should be placed ahead of the supposed rights of the general population to see trials on television.The real motivation, in any case, behind televising trials is no the pursuit of some noble democratic right, but simply the pursuit of drama and titillation. ‘Court TV’ in the United States features tabloid-style and sensationalist programming. Its audience seeks entertainment rather than education. Fictional dramas, including those set in court, already provide such entertainment. We should not jeopardise individual liberty in the pursuit of a real-life courtroom thriller.
Courts should be televised for the same reason that we see the proceedings in parliament on our tele...
Courts should be televised for the same reason that we see the proceedings in parliament on our televisions. The laws are made in parliament and developed in the courts. Common law countries employ the doctrine of precedent. This means that the reasoning in an earlier case can determine the outcome of a subsequent one. Consequently, the decisions in courts could have as much impact on our lives as those taken in parliament. We have a right to know about these decisions.Secondly, even if every case does not determine new law, we should know how laws are to be applied. Seeing law made in parliament is only half the story.
Courts do have some role in developing the law. However, the courts which do so tend to be the courts of appeal, and the supreme courts, or in the case of Britain, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords. It would be extremely unlikely that a television channel would seek to cover these hearings, as they consist of dry legal argument, and feature none of the witnesses, the cross-examination or the emotive speeches to the jury that we would associate with courtroom drama. These are proceedings for lawyers, carried out by lawyers. Few members of the audience would have the understanding or the inclination to watch such programs. Likewise, watching the application of law is not particularly enriching. Whilst we can understand the important principles of any new law, the actual details, which may be argued in court, are of primary interest to lawyers. Written reports of every case already provide lawyers with this information.
Putting cameras in court will improve public confidence in the judiciary and the system of justice a...
Putting cameras in court will improve public confidence in the judiciary and the system of justice as a whole. It is difficult to see how the public can have confidence in a system that most of them never see! The judiciary often appear to be a secretive and closed club. The occasional clumsy comments that are made by judges are ridiculed in the media. It is necessary to dispel this unrepresentative image by showing the competence, efficiency, and sensitivity of the majority of judges throughout the legal system. Judges have made efforts to improve their public profile in recent years.
The system of justice will actually be harmed by televising trials, for two reasons ; the effect upon the witnesses and victims of crime, and the possible corruption of the jury and witnesses.Firstly, the prospect that an alleged victim of a crime will have to give evidence in court already deters many from bringing prosecutions. Victims will be much less prepared to give evidence if they know that this painful experience is going to be seen by an audience of millions. Evidently, we will not have confidence in a system of justice which fails to bring the accused to trial.Secondly, a popular following of a trial will encourage witnesses and jurors to become involved in the media coverage. This interference may affect the reliability of the witness’ evidence or the jurors’ verdict. Following the televised trial of O. J. Simpson, several witnesses jurors gave interviews to the media, or wrote their memoirs of the case. In Britain it is unlawful to disclose the proceedings within the jury room or the jurors’ opinion on people involved in the case. Newspaper interviews with witnesses have already led to trials being abandoned. Cameras in court can only encourage witnesses and jurors to distort their true recollection or their opinions in order to profit from the media circus. Ultimately, payment of participants in the fact-finding process of a trial may lead to the wrong verdict being reached. Wrong verdicts will not inspire confidence in the criminal justice system.
Televised trials will be an antidote to the hysterical and sensationalist coverage of trials that we...
Televised trials will be an antidote to the hysterical and sensationalist coverage of trials that we see in the print media. Instead of relying on a journalist’s report of a case, and the sketches of a courtroom artist, we will be able to see for ourselves the evidence, the demeanour of the defendant, and the trial process. Cameras in the courtroom will prevent the public being misled.
The example of Court TV in America suggests that the sensationalist elements of the print media will pervade on television. In fact, television is likely to distort the representation of the truth to an even greater extent. As trials of heinous crimes typically continue for many days or even weeks, some measure of editorial discretion will be required in order to produce a brief and informative program. Whereas newspaper reports summarise the events of a whole day in court, the cameras can focus on a dramatic incident that is unrepresentative of the entirety of the proceedings. The most memorable event from the trial of O. J. Simpson was his inability to fit his hand into the glove found at the murder scene. However, much less prominence was given in the television coverage to the hours of scientific evidence that proved it was possible that the glove had shrunk.
Putting cameras into court will improve the trial process, as public monitoring provides a powerful ...
Putting cameras into court will improve the trial process, as public monitoring provides a powerful incentive for the judiciary and the lawyers to increase their efficiency and adhere to good standards of behaviour. Would any judge make an occasional ignorant comment if he or she knew that it would be beamed into every home in the land? The introduction of cameras into the British Houses of Parliament resulted in significantly improved quality of debate, punctuality and greater attendance of the members of parliament. We can expect the same procedural benefits from cameras in the courtroom.
Lawyers and the judiciary are already sufficiently accountable. Barristers are self-employed and the likelihood of continuing in work, and receiving a ‘repeat brief’, largely depends on the quality of their performance in court.Although the judiciary enjoys much greater security of tenure, their competence is constantly monitored by means of reports from the solicitors and barristers appearing before them. Therefore, nothing is to be gained by making the lawyers and judges ‘accountable’ to a mostly uneducated public through the medium of television. Moreover, television cameras actually harm the standard of debate. The coverage of debates in the House of Commons, and particularly ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ has contributed towards ‘soundbite politics’. Depth of analysis and discussion is replaced by pithy comments that sound striking on news bulletins. During the course of a trial it is crucial that every issue is investigated as thoroughly as possible, in order to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The search for the truth will not be assisted by encouraging the protagonists to rely on one-liners for the cameras.
A video record of a trial will provide a powerful new tool for both the judiciary and the defendant....
A video record of a trial will provide a powerful new tool for both the judiciary and the defendant. At present, an individual who has been convicted may appeal to a higher court. However, the appeal court judges are very reluctant to question the quality of evidence given by the witnesses at the trial, as they were unable to see this evidence being given. Hence the right of appeal against conviction is very limited. Yet, by watching the video record of this evidence, judges would be able to assess the demeanour, body language and overall impression given by each witness ; elements that are inevitably missing from a written transcript. These characteristics are nevertheless necessary in order to ascertain the veracity of the evidence.
Every moment of every crown court trial in Britain is already recorded and stored for the assistance of judges or lawyers involved in any potential appeal. In addition, a stenographer in the courtroom records every word for the benefit of the people involved in the trial. A video recording is unnecessary. Furthermore, the reason that appeal court judges rarely interfere with the verdicts of lower courts is not because they were not present themselves at the original trial. In the common law system, the jurors, and not judges, try the facts. It is for a jury to reach a decision on the facts, as presented by each witness. It is for the judge to advise and apply the relevant law. Using a video record in order to overturn jury verdicts would require a revolution in the criminal justice system. The jury would effectively have to be abolished.
What do you think?