In yet another interminable Bill going through Parliament, this time the Crime and Courts Bill, it is proposed to allow cameras into court to film the judge’s sentencing remarks. Lord Judge, the outgoing Lord Chief Justice, has expressed his opposition to “cameras swanning around court”.
Some of you are old enough to remember a very similar debate on filming parliamentary proceedings. Parliamentarians agonised about it long and hard. Those who objected came forward with a variety of reasons. They didn’t want their constituents to see them picking their noses, or scratching their genitalia, or falling asleep, or worse still, conspicuous by their absence. It was a gentleman’s club, with an unwelcome smattering of ladies, and not open to all and sundry.
Eventually a compromise was reached, whereby the cameras were only allowed to show the head and shoulders of the individual speaker and not others sitting near or around him. This broke the ice, and gradually common sense prevailed. Cameras can now play around the Chamber at will, and the viewer can get the flavour of democracy at work.
Cameras will soon be allowed into the Court of Appeal, and as Lord Judge predicts, viewers will find the proceedings very dull. My many outings to the Court of Appeal suggest that their lordships need an occasional kick up the legal backside, so if cameras help to focus judges and advocates on presenting and determining appeals as expeditiously as possible, this can only be a good thing.
Lord Judge cited the experience of the New Zealand courts, where cameras are routinely admitted, and where from time to time the public gallery can be heard off screen either applauding the judgment or decrying it. He asks how this can be controlled to ‘preserve the dignity’ of the court. But surely this is life, the real thing, and unless there is evidence that the public are playing up to the cameras, the purpose of filming court proceedings is to inform the viewer. Whether he is impressed or not is a matter for him, and if he is not, then he will tune into the New Zealand equivalent of Neighbours.
Enough of sanitised justice. It is time to throw open the courtroom doors and let in a much needed breath of fresh air.