Justice seen to be done, but how?

John Ryley in The Guardian online argues that we should allow cameras into courts.  The reason beyond his argument is that it would allow the public to understand the complexity of many cases that last for weeks and months and that at a time when we have seen parliamentarians put before the courts we could have viewed the proceedings as they happened.

Details of John’s arguments can be found here. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/05/justice-television-cameras-court-mps-expenses

It made me think about why we would need to allow cameras in. Anyone can view court proceedings so if the public are really interested then they are able to see what happens first hand. The issue is that most people are not that interested in the everyday cases that are put before the courts so don’t bother to go.

For years people would rely on the court reports in the local newspapers. That was a time when there were reporters in the courts who would file copy about the events taking place on a daily basis. They served all their time on newspapers from inside the court buildings. They had a unique skill in being able to find the best cases and to turn the details of the cases into newspaper stories without any legal problems. As resources within local newspapers have become stretched there are only a few court reporters left. So, how is justice seen to be done?

In these modern times where hyperlocal websites have been created and are increasingly reflecting what matters to local communities, why couldn’t they report on court proceedings? Saddleworth News did provide details of the events surrounding the Phil Woolas case, and they did it with a local eye to detail.  Why couldn’t this become more widespread in the future? So, if there is a case that is of importance to the local community why would we not see interested local people watching the proceedings and then providing updates through their website or Twitter feed?  It seems to be something that would fit with all the elements of what is coming out in the Big Society agenda. Local people taking responsibility for local services, in this case sharing details of justice outcomes.

Ryley adds that :

As a starting point, there is no reason why sentencing remarks in criminal cases and judgments in civil cases could not be televised. This would allow judges to explain their decisions direct to a sceptical public.

It seems that this would be a starting point, and a way for the judiciary to have openness to what they do.  They would be able to explain sentencing decisions, and the legal issues and background that impact and sometimes make outcomes appear unduly lenient. It would also enhance the debate around justice and what the public want from the criminal justice system.  There would be no issue of affecting the outcome as the verdict would have already been given and in many cases would have already been reported.

The thing that prevents this happening is the view that nothing should interfere with the course of justice and that someone is innocent until proven guilty.  We protect many traditions, and until now the traditions around the justice system have remained intact. But with the new dawn in communication perhaps as Ryley argues it is time for transparency, honesty and justice that is not only done, it is seen to be done.

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