We all love a court room drama. Whether it’s a smash hit TV series like Broadchurch; a more comical take on the court room process like (a great favourite of mine) My cousin Vinnie; or a high brow and life changing work of art like To Kill a Mockingbird; it seems that we can’t get enough court in our TV and cinema viewing.
But should it only be in fiction that we see the inside of a court room through the lens of a TV camera?
In recent years we have been able to see real cases, real courts and real people. For example, the sentencing diet in the tragic case of Karen Buckley, the Irish student murdered in Glasgow after a night out, has been televised. Indeed, the murder trial of Nat Fraser was also televised, albeit for a documentary after the trial had concluded. Like many I'm sure, I was captivated by Sky News' continuous coverage of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Indeed, they even had reporters tweeting throughout the trial providing breaking news throughout the day.
It seems inevitable that, particularly as our courts are being equipped with the best IT systems and technology that the trend of showing real cases on TV will grow and grow. But is it right? How does it impact on justice and access to justice?
In terms of the arguments in favour of using technology, simply put, it promotes the concept of justice being seen to be done. It is an inherent part of our legal system that justice is done openly before the public to ensure that any decision is just and proportionate and to ensure that no power is exercised arbitrarily. In these days of increasing numbers of court closures and therefore increasing centralisation of the court system, the use of technology makes it easier for interested parties to engage with the system in a way that they may not be unable to manage on account of the distance to their local court.
There are criticisms of the prospect of increasing the use of technology in court rooms. Principally, it affects the privacy of those individuals concerned, whether that is through the near constant broadcasting of their reaction to an ongoing criminal trial or the immense media scrutiny as journalists tweet from the public gallery. Indeed, it could be said that to televise proceedings could lead to them becoming a public spectacle. Perhaps one of the most fundamental criticisms is the risk that a witness’ evidence could be tarnished or affected by being able to access evidence given by earlier witnesses. There is even a risk that jurors could be affected by the media scrutiny and pay too much attention to the opinions expressed on websites, social media and newspapers. It is undoubtedly a tricky and divisive issue that requires careful consideration as new technology continues to become more prevalent in the profession.
The jury is perhaps out therefore on whether there should be more coverage of criminal cases.
But, from the perspective of a health and safety firm I would say that anything which increases the focus on the regulation of employers and promotes the welfare of employees in the workplace has to be welcomed with open arms. The effect of technology is such that it allows greater access to courts through the medium of social media or television to allow for greater scrutiny of workplace practices. This, in turn, should hopefully ensure the greater adherence of employers to health and safety legislation, thereby minimising the likelihood of inappropriate and dangerous workplace practices and ensuring the safety of employees at work…