Chief Justice Wayne Martin

Television cameras for Australian courts probably not far away as the UK judiciary presses the record button

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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15 replies »

  1. “Televising court cases is long overdue in Australia and is an important part in making the courts more accountable.”

    That’s what I though at first, but does anyone really think they will televise any of their corruption? I think not. Those cases will be kept well away from the cameras. That whole thing would be just a PR exercise to make the system appear to be fair and just.

  2. I think it is a good thing because I know of a case where the transcript was altered. It should be recorded in every court for accountability.

  3. If ‘Big Brother’ wants to track the general populous on TV, we have a right to observe what transpires on the back side of the ‘system’.
    It may be ‘off topic’, but the sentence of a young man to only four years jail for punching an 18 year old young man to the ground, resulting in death, requires deeper understanding why the sentence was not more severe.

  4. While televising some court cases, like the phone hacking matter in the UK, may be in the national interest I dont think most routine court matters need to be televised or broadcast on radio. It’s likely to become just more cheap TV for the commercial networks like the other reality TV rubbish that is aired currently.

  5. Complete rubbish if they do so, it will never be able to compete with the ‘ Rumpole of the Bailey’ series. (Leo McKern BBC)

  6. It is going to make it harder to tamper with the transcript. I represented myself in family court/ fms and they frequently had to tamper as I won legal points. The sad thing is that I am not that smart. The court is so used to doing as they wish, the players are lazy.

    • Well then Graham, it seems like it’s time to start taking digital voice recorders into court. And plenty of memory cards too. Then release the audio and altered transcripts to the media. 🙂

    • Hello Mr Woolly
      I too represented myself in the Family Court since 2005 and have had a very similar experience – twice, in fact. I have also had a terrible experience with the solicitor whom I engaged in the beginning – easily the most devious person I have encountered in my life and caused irreparable harm to my children.
      Would you be interested in contacting me – I have been working on these matter and could not locate anybody with similar experiences.
      The problem with tampering with the recording is that the evidence for tampering vanishes with the tampering. In the Rules, nobody is permitted to take recording devices to Court, possibly because doing so would expose the tampering of recordings.
      I have had email correspondence with Hon Justice Michael Kirby, who has interest in judicial integrity.
      My email is

  7. Time to also think about stepping into the future and have the Prime Minister’s office both audio & video recorded for history. (Similar to what JFK achieved for the’Oval Office’).
    Raises the bar for those elected “to act in a manner befitting the standards expected in representative government. “

  8. Two major problems with courts which televising will not eradicate –
    1. the adversarial system, which is designed to hide the truth; and
    2. judges ruling out relevant evidence which they consider too prejudicial.
    Would any other industry that had a 50% productivity rate (i.e., conviction rate) last long?

  9. My name is Marlene McBain-Miller. In 2011 I became a victim of an Australian court doctoring an audio recording of my court hearing. I believe this was done to cover up the disgusting behavior by a magistrate during my hearing.
    I have reported this doctoring to many government and judicial departments and none have been willing to conduct a proper investigation into this matter. I do know other Australians who have had their court recordings doctored by our courts and I believe there are many more Australians who are victims of this judicial doctoring. The Facebook page “Australians against Courts Doctoring Court Recordings” shows some of the victims not only in Australia but also in other parts of the world.
    I went to court to protect my children and myself from a bullying thug and was humiliated and mocked and my children and I were then left to be abused, threatened, our home and car smashed and our bodies physically assaulted. I will not silently accept what was done to my children and I and what has been done to other innocent Australians due to our courts covering up their despicable behavior. I want the Australian people informed of this matter so the public can demand measures be put in place to ensure as much as possible the doctoring of court recordings is stopped. I believe the installation of video cameras in all courts along with audio recording is the best option to stopping this vile crime.
    To see more go to the Facebook page”Australians against courts Doctoring Court Recordings”.

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