Greater Number of Scottish Court Cases To be Filmed – Will this be beneficial?

by Emma Flood Curated Media on January 30, 2015

New proposals outlined by Lord President, Lord Gill mean that filming of some court cases for TV could now be permitted.

Lord Gill, Scotland’s most senior judge has stated he will issue guidance on the televising of court proceedings and that any approved filing will be “subject to robust, clear and comprehensive guidelines”.

Lord Gill said:

“I am grateful to Lady Dorrian and her group for having carried out this exercise so thoroughly. These well-considered recommendations have the support of the judges. I accept all of the recommendations. They are entirely appropriate in the contemporary world. My office will now prepare guidance on the implementation of Lady Dorrian’s report.”

Cameras have been allowed in Scotland’s courts since 1992. However, such filming has only been permitted where all parties have given their consent.

The current guidelines on whether a case can be filmed also ask the judges to consider “whether the presence of television cameras would be without risk to the administration of justice”.

This has meant that cameras in the court rooms have been very rare. In fact only a few high profile appeal court cases have been featured.

Cameras have previously been allowed in to court rooms to take footage for documentaries to be shown at a much later date – such footage is heavily screened by legal representatives.

Three or four applications are submitted each year to courts but permission is rarely granted.

However, Lord Gill’s report has recommended even sentencing statements by judges and sheriffs should be shown under the new proposals and the review group also supported allowing reporters to tweet live updates from court.

There will however be strict limitations on what will be filmed. For example, broadcasting or recording of cases involving children, sexual offences and vulnerable witnesses should not be allowed.

What can be filmed?

The report makes various recommendations on the limitations to filming. These are:

Filming of civil and criminal appeals as well as legal debates in

  • civil first instance proceedings (this could be things such as judicial review or procedure roll hearings) are permitted to be filmed for live transmission.
  • Criminal trial should be permitted to be filmed for documentary purposes in certain circumstances.
  • Live transmission or filming for subsequent news broadcast will not be permitted in criminal first instance circumstances or in civil proceedings where witnesses are involved.
  • Live transmission of criminal trials should not be permitted
  • Where journalists register with the Scottish Court Service in advance should be permitted to use live text-based communications such as Twitter from court.

What benefits could this bring?

Court proceedings are regularly filmed in the United States, it is alleged that this brings transparency to the justice system.

Bill Sheaffer, a US attorney who works as a legal analyst for the TV station Channel 9, said televising the criminal justice system in the US had been very positive, he said:

“Since the early 1990s, all 50 states have some form of cameras in court. But there are very rarely any problems. Cameras are stationary and unobtrusive and things are unfolding at a fairly clipped place.”

Similar to the new proposals, jurors, children and vulnerable witnesses such as rape victims or police informants are not to be filmed and mistakes were very rare Mr Sheaffer claims:

“The fear that cameras are going to alter the ability of a defendant to get a fair trial have proved unwarranted. But it’s certainly wise for you in Britain to make this change gradually.”

It will be interesting to see whether court proceedings will ever be filmed to the vast extent they are in the US and also to see the level of public interest in watching court proceedings.

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