Does The Pistorius Trial Tell Us Anything About Cameras In Court?

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The order that aspects of Oscar Pistorius’s trial may be televised may come as a surprise to people here: although it is important to remember that evidence of Pistorius and witnesses who object to being filmed will not be shown.

And with the advent of live streaming of hearings in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales, broadcasts of trials are not as surprising as they might have been ten years ago.

Yet so far television trials in England and Wales (it has happened in Scotland) has remained off limits. There is a stark difference between televising legal argument in the most senior courts and televising criminal trials of high-profile celebrities.

It has been argued by some that the televising of proceedings in UK courts should be advancing towards cameras in trials.

The legal cultures between England and Wales and South Africa are very different – a factor remarked on by Mr Justice Mlambo in his decision to allow cameras in Pistorius’s trial.

One must not forget the necessity for openness in the court system in South Africa following apartheid. South Africa is rebuilding its confidence in the judicial system, which during apartheid was criticised for failing to temper properly the injustice of the apartheid regime – especially in poor and vulnerable communities.

Distrust of the judiciary is not prevalent as it previously has been in South Africa. It is also necessary to remember that South Africa does not employ the jury system in the trial of criminals and so the concern of prejudicing the public would not be a factor.

In the UK, however, contemporaneous televising of criminal trials might cause problems if perhaps a first jury could not reach a verdict and the defendant faced a retrial. By that point, the integrity of the pool of potential jurors might be prejudiced.

There is also some concern as to who would be televised. Given the number of trials daily across the country, when is it appropriate to have cameras in court? Just celebrities? What about large-scale crimes, high-profile crime? Even if a person is acquitted, the wider publicity might cause an individual ridicule or damnation from those who do interpret the evidence in the same way as the adjudicators; thereby rendering them to trial again and again.

The televising of the trial in South Africa is to inspire confidence in the judicial process; I doubt cameras in the UK courts would do the same here.

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