UK courts have started televising court cases at the Court of Appeal level in the UK which is worth looking at because it is only a matter of time before it starts here in Australia.
It is already happening in New Zealand and the Chief Justice of Western Australia tried to implement televising cases earlier this year which would have happened except for the intervention of the WA Attorney-General Michael Mischin.
Televising court cases is long overdue in Australia and is an important part in making the courts more accountable. I have no doubt the cost of doing so would easily be saved by a reduction of frivolous and vexatious court cases by wealthy individuals and companies who abuse the legal system.
All court cases are already recorded for sound, so with technology at the level it is now days the extra cost to live stream to the Internet would be minimal. In the UK it is the media who are paying for it which if the same was to happen here there would be no cost to the tax payer.
The UK experience
Court cases in the Court of Appeal started to be televised last week and it had been in the planning by the UK Government since at least January. (Click here for the UK court structure)
“The move, which comes after a decade of lobbying by British broadcasters, heralds an era of transparency in a profession steeped in tradition.”
“Proponents say it will improve access to a system where few court documents are available online and reporters are restricted in what they can write during criminal prosecutions. Others warn it could affect the actions of judges and lawyers who may play to the cameras.”
“For opening up justice, it is a risk worth taking,” said Richard Moorhead, a professor of law and ethics at University College London. “Judges will pay a little more attention to public opinion than they once did.”
And: “Media companies including British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, British Broadcasting Corp., ITV Plc and the U.K. Press Association will have access to the footage and cover the costs of the court equipment and broadcasting. Proceedings in the Supreme Court, the U.K.’s highest court, are already filmed.” (Click here to read more)
“If all goes according to plan, innovation will fuse seamlessly with tradition. The video-journalist’s editing trolley is fashioned from varnished oak, camouflaged to match courtroom furniture. Remote controlled cameras are concealed in bookcases between ancient legal volumes.”
“The enthusiasm of television executives and the judiciary’s caution have created a virtually live feed – running on a 70-second delay and bound up within a framework of agreed legal safeguards.” (Click here to read more)
It has been reported in the UK that this is only the start and televising in other courts will happen in the future.
“In a move towards greater transparency in the justice system, ministers hope that judges could be filmed delivering verdicts and sentences.”
“No 10 has indicated that allowing filming in the court of appeal is being seen as a first step. Broadcasters will be given the right to film counsel and judges in appeal cases.”
“Ministers hope to extend filming to crown court cases. But broadcasters would only be allowed to film the judge during the delivery of the verdict and during sentencing. Defendants, witnesses and counsel on both sides would not be filmed.” (Click here to read more)
There have been some critics, for example The Guardian published an article titled “Cameras in court are a threat to justice - A veneer of transparency covers up a damaging corporate agenda based on voyeurism and money” by Helena Kennedy QC (Click here to read) Given that Ms Kennedy is a barrister and possible future judge one has to question how impartial her opinion is.
Western Australia’s attempt at televising court cases
Chief Justice Wayne Martin had planned to video stream cases which was meant to start this year. The WA Attorney-General, Michael Mischin intervened and stopped the televising.
It was reported by the ABC at the time: “Western Australia’s Attorney General Michael Mischin has admitted he does have concerns about broadcasting court cases on the Internet but maintains that is not why he blocked a plan to do so.”
“The States Chief Justice Wayne Martin this morning accused Mr Mischin of threatening the independence of the judiciary after he stepped in to shut down a plan to broadcast selected cases.”
“Despite conceding he has reservations about the idea, Michael Mischin insists the decision was based purely on finding the $50,000 needed to fund it.”
“I don’t have a problem with the Chief Justice webcasting anything from his courts,” he said.” (Click here to read more)
And the SMH said: “Western Australia’s top judge did something unheard of in the justice system yesterday: he ignored precedent.”
“In an unusual move the Supreme Court of WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin publicly criticised a decision by the state’s Attorney-General Michael Mischin to put the brakes on a court web-streaming proposal.”
“The Attorney-General’s decision prevents the court from using contemporary technology to improve public access to proceedings in court,” Justice Martin said in a statement.”
“Public confidence in our justice system depends upon transparency and the web streaming of cases is a simple way in which we can enhance that transparency.”(Click here to read more)
It is fairly clear that Mr Mischin is lying as the cost of $50,000 would likely be recovered by a reduction of court cases. Who knows, maybe they could actually make a profit by selling ads on the webcast.
Televising court cases is not a total solution to making courts more accountable but it would go a long way to helping the issue and probably reduce judicial corruption to some degree. Australian judicial officers should start preparing as it will not be too long before it happens here.
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