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For the past eighty-five years, there has been a ban on filming in English and Welsh courts. The pathological need for faces and identities was instead filled by newspapers printing photographs and badly drawn sketches of the bad guys. This ban may soon be lifted by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark, to allow for the sentencing to be broadcast. The demand to know that the judge agrees that the mass murderer is very naughty indeed is currently served by journalists writing down m’lud’s summaries verbatim, but Clark hopes that televisual broadcasts will allow the public to “judge for themselves how we are performing.” Indeed, the standard of the judge’s attire, diction and general appearance should definitely be as open to scrutiny as the judgement.
Dominic Grieve QC, on the other hand, is deeply concerned that such a move could turn trials into a piece of theatre; serving as a platform for ‘eccentric’ judges to grandstand upon, as though any legal professional is going to wrap up a case through the medium of interpretive dance or, more realistically, with unjustly harsh sentencing, although the rampant judge-shaming in the papers hasn’t elicited the punishments people demand. US courts (in which sentencing is filmed) still dish out sentences that the public decide are not harsh enough, Casey Anthony’s ‘not guilty’ verdict for the murder of her two year old daughter being a prime example.
The law will continue to keep witnesses and crooks under wraps for the full ten minutes before their faces are spunked out all over the front pages. For sure, those involved with a crime will always be safe from a lens in court, and allowing sentencing remarks isn’t the given inch that will turn into a mile, but the camera doesn’t have to be pointed at the victims to head for the hills. The issue is not that the trials will end up as an MTV reality show with a sarcastic narrator, but rather the lack of respect shown for victims of crime. The fragility of a rape victim is exploited enough by over-zealous QCs examining their past sexual history and dress sense in court, without the public then agreeing that she does indeed ‘sound a bit tarty’ from behind their television screens and troughs. If the conviction rate for rape and other sexual offences drops below its already deplorable level, there’ll be even less of the HARD JUSTICE that people love to see.
Will filming affect the judgement? Perhaps the judge will be more inclined to wash his wig in case his Mum’s watching, but it won’t throw his objectivity out the window. At least, one would hope that the British legal system is above caving in to such shallow and superficial pressures. The most that sentencing will offer in full 1080p HD is yet more sensationalist moral outrage for the baying mobs to sink their teeth into. Another block of oak for the press to fling upon the bonfire of public nosiness? I think so.