Thursday, 16 January 2020

The revealing lens - Let the cameras in

With the exception of members of the Royal Family few people in society have more cause to distrust the media than Her Majesty's Judges. Convention means that they have historically been obligated to ascribe to the Queen's famous maxim 'Never complain never explain.' This has applied however absurd or inflammatory have been the attacks on them. If, for example, our judges are really 'enemies of the people' one reasonably wonders who on earth their friends are.

So it is that numerous of my learned friends have reacted with groans and dismay to the news that the cameras have finally breached the citadel of the Crown Court. The media are jumping for joy the lawyers are slumped in disbelief that anyone could be so naive as to have allowed this.

At least that seems to be the party line. The Bar Council publicly has welcomed the innovation but much in the same way as John Profumo would have welcomed the editor of The Mirror into his home.

Generally I find myself in keeping with fellow members of the Bar but on this issue I seem to be in a minority. My thinking is that this is, on balance, a positive development. The pitfalls, of course, are obvious:

1. Why expose judges to television scrutiny, it could be dangerous to their safety?
2. Why expose judges to television scrutiny just for sentencing, it provides a partial and incomplete story?
3. What nefarious use could be made of the television footage online?
4. How obvious is it that there will be wilful or inadvertent misinterpretation of judges' sentencing remarks?
5. TV is a circus and the Crown Court is not entertainment.
6. What better things to spend the money on - Legal Aid, police, the CPS, Probation, Prisons, the Courts.
7. How complete will the coverage of cases be?

I'm sure there are others that I am too slow to think of but while it is the default setting of the criminal barrister to assume the worst of everything let's try and think of the advantages:

1. We've not done this before so assuming ill will come of it is just that, an assumption and barristers should not deal in assumptions;
2. The media already wilfully misrepresents the judiciary and its decisions at every turn how can showing judges actually speaking in court make that worse;
3. The criminal justice system is crying out for public attention particularly with regard to explaining itself and more exposure provides a potential platform for that;
4. The public gallery is a quaint throwback to the 19th century. With the exception of a tiny number of cases the public do not come, they do not see, they do not hear and they do not know;
5. A handful of cases will actually have the cameras in;
6. Having the cameras in or the possibility of them may encourage judges routinely to reduce their sentencing remarks to writing which may diminish the number of sentencing mistakes and sentences that need to be appealed;
7. I assume the cost of this will not be borne by HMCTS so expenditure on televising hearings is not money that would otherwise be spent on the CJS;
8. Cameras in the Court of Appeal have not brought about the end of the world;
9. TV has now encroached on almost every single part of life imaginable: sex; death; surgery; royalty; schools. It seems almost absurd for the courts to insist that they should be impervious to this.

Let justice be seen to be done - we have nothing to fear.