31 October 2013, All Hallow’s Eve, but luckily no spooky goings-on in the Sky newsroom. The headline news was cameras in courtrooms and Gus Sellitto was interviewed alongside Michael Caplan QC for their contrasting perspectives on this development. The statutory bar had been lifted and cameras were being allowed into the Court of Appeal and the High Court for the first time. Surely, this was a great day for open justice, making the best legal system in the world truly accessible and transparent?
Michael Caplan QC had concerns. Although cameras posed potential challenges to the court system, Gus argued compellingly that the change is not as significant as implied by its detractors. The newspapers already edit and provide excerpts of appeals and sentences; surely viewers tuning in to a part of an appeal would be no more at risk of not drawing a balanced view than if they had read an edited piece in a newspaper? More likely, by being able to see the process and a Judge giving his reasons for a decision, the public could form a more balanced view. There are rigorous checks and safeguards in place to allay any safety concerns, for example witnesses and defendants faces are not shown. High profile public enquiries have often been televised and have moved transparent justice forward; cameras in court are the next step.
We could no longer simply rely on court sketches Gus said; this was seriously behind the times and indeed the rest of Europe. The UK legal profession is rightly and naturally cautious and very aware of issues such as contempt so there was not a real risk that it could turn into a US system, where the legal team in the OJ Simpson trial became as famous as the defendant. Instead, cameras in court will demystify a complex and often misunderstood preconception of the higher courts for the public and might even inspire the next generation of young lawyers. So was Halloween 2013 a great day for open justice? Emphatically, yes.