In recent weeks and months I’ve watched as my profession makes itself look like Homer Simpson at the helm of Springfield’s nuclear power plant in reporting issues around the justice system.
From the reporting of the Supreme Court’s decision in R v Jogee (judgment here) on joint enterprise to the inevitable FOI request into legal aid every time a high profile case (usually murder) ends, the media never seems to get it right.
Even the BBC made a hash of reporting the implications on joint enterprise, then led out on the outrage of the legal aid cost in the trial of Becky Watts’ killers.
Throw into the mix the disastrous three part documentary The Prosecutors, at best a tiny glimpse into life at the CPS, a worst an agenda driven puff piece, and it’s strike three for Auntie.
Thankfully the Beeb have been pretty restrained at the news cameras may be allowed into Crown Courts for the first time under plans announced by the MoJ (more thoughts on that later).
But others have run away with themselves again, like children being given the keys to the sweetie cupboard.
And so see the Mail and Express, unable to contain their excitement, found on the kitchen floor with chocolate around their mouths, candy floss in their hair and silhouetted in sherbet after their latest binge.
‘High profile murder trials could be aired LIVE on TV’ Mail Online reported (their caps). The Express took an almost identical line.
Both used the news as a way to link the story to high profile cases, Huntley, Yorkshire Ripper and so forth.
The headlines may as well have been ‘Roll up for the rapists and PAEDOS!!!!!’
In reality the MoJ plan is for a trial in just eight court centres (including Birmingham) focusing only on judge’s sentencing remarks and at this stage this footage won’t even be made public.
It will form a decision as to whether a similar setup could ever go public.
Future broadcasts would follow a similar line and so suggestions we may see live trials is way wide of the mark.
This will not be OJ Simpson in the UK, bloodied daggers will not be wielded in front of horrified jurors and viewers most certainly won’t get to watch the rapists and murderers squirm in the dock or witness box.
Instead you will see a fairly sober looking judge delivering fairly standard sentencing remarks outlining the case and explaining the rationale behind the ultimate sentence (again, more on this soon).
Reporting like this, while disappointing, shouldn’t come as a surprise really. The justice system is reported in some quarters in the same way as the NHS – grab the attention, alarm alarm alarm and don’t worry about the finer details.
The problem here is, it’s this irresponsibility that slams the brakes on access to things like cameras in courts, it’s the reason people don’t have a grasp on the importance of things like legal aid, a well funded CPS and courts service.
Part of the argument against televising trials is that media outlets would use it for entertainment, viewing figures, web clicks and would therefore use footage in the most sensational, if not accurate way, justice be damned.
Given the above examples, is there any surprise there’s apprehension about giving the lunatics the keys to the asylum?
On the whole I think the proposals by the MoJ are sensible.
Even I hade to read that sentence back to double check it contained both the words ‘MoJ’ and ‘sensible’.
The showing of a judge’s sentencing remarks would open a window on the system that for many is a mystery.
For some it will give a glimpse as to how sentencing decisions are made, taking into consideration the facts, mitigation and guidelines.
Of course for some they will retain their sense of outrage at the system unless judges order public floggings, tarring and feathering in the town square and the return of the hangman’s rope.
But at least their outrage may have some bass is in reality.
On the whole I don’t see this move changing things a great deal. Parliament has been open to cameras for decades and people still don’t have a brilliant grasp of the passage of a Bill through the house.
It will be dependant I suppose on which cases are recorded and where and how that footage is made available.
But more transparency of our justice system can only be a good thing and perhaps real footage, showing how sentencing works might help to counter some of the dodgy reporting we’re currently lumbered with.
Given Birmingham is on the list for the MoJs video trial I’ll been keen to see the process in action.