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banner Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Head to head: Cameras in court

Under Scottish law, cameras of any kind are strictly prohibited in criminal court cases.

The BBC and other broadcasters tried, and failed, to have the ban lifted for the Lockerbie trial.

News Online spoke to two people with opposing views on the subject of cameras in court.

Dr Paul Mason of the Southampton Institute, Centre for Media and Justice.

Five reasons to televise the Lockerbie trial:

1) Importance of the trial. The number of victims, the media focus on events leading up to the trial, the coverage of the crash and the speculation concerning the accused have ensured this is a case of great importance.

It is therefore essential to communicate proceedings around the world. This is best achieved by using remote, discreet cameras in the courtroom.

2) International Justice. Although tried under Scottish law, the Lockerbie trial represents an important development in international justice, involving a multiplicity of nations.

This is a global trial and television ensures a global audience. Cameras can also educate the public, facilitating greater understanding of the complex issues involved in this case.

3) Dislocation. Cameras can address the problem of geographical location of a trial. Families of the victims are unlikely to be able to travel to the Netherlands to see a trial that is likely to last for many months if not years.

Electronic broadcast coverage of proceedings addresses this dislocation by creating a worldwide public gallery. This is one of the principles on which the televising of the Bosnian and Rwandan war crimes trials is based.

4) Judicial Control. Opponents of televising trials argue contemporaneous coverage affects court participants. Not only has this never been proved in research on the issue, but at the Lockerbie trial there will be no jury.

Three senior Scottish judges are not likely to be affected by the presence of cameras. The guidelines for filming in Scottish courts also require written consent from any witness appearing in the trial.

5) Scrutiny. Far from politicising the courtroom, electronic broadcast coverage of the Lockerbie case ensures transparency of proceedings.

Misinformation and inaccurate reporting of the case so far would not continue during the trial. Cameras into the courtroom permit people to see for themselves rather than relying on secondary information from legal spin doctors and press.

Robert Black QC, Professor of Scottish Law at Edinburgh University:

The question of whether court proceedings should be televised or not, boils down to one fundamental question: will the cameras help or impair the fairness of the trial?

It is my opinion that they will detract from the fairness of the proceedings and so it is simply wrong.

Disregarding the likes of the police and forensic experts, ordinary, non-professional, witnesses are already sufficiently traumatised by having to stand up in the witness box in front of the jury, the judge and the public gallery and maybe divulge embarrassing or traumatic events.

Were they to do so under the gaze of cameras, then psychologically they would know it was not just the people in the courtroom seeing this but the whole television audience.

This would inevitably add to the trauma and detract from the witness's ability to give a true account of proceedings.

If you look at some of the absolute disasters in the United States that have occurred with cameras in court, and compare the situation to before cameras were allowed, you can see what might happen here.

The televising of the OJ Simpson case was widely believed to have been potentially prejudicial to the outcome of the trial.

People have to understand that trials are not entertainment. They have a very serious purpose. They are not soap operas. Potentially, people lose their liberty and the important thing is that the accused gets a fair trial.

The argument that television would help justice to be seen to be done is nonsense. Anyone who wants to go to a court can do so of their own free will.

I've yet to hear anyone who is in favour of the presence of cameras argue that they actually increase the fairness.

However, I have no strong views either way about the radio broadcast of court proceedings. Provided it does not add to a witness's trauma and difficulty, I think it is acceptable.

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20 Apr 00 | Lockerbie Trial
BBC loses Lockerbie case
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