News In Focus
Media v defence lawyers as Holyrood hears court TV submissions
3 October 2012
The two sides of the debate over whether to allow TV cameras into court were heard in the Scottish Parliament yesterday as the Justice Committee took evidence on the role of the media in the justice system.
Media interests argued for televised courts, including trial proceedings, while defence lawyers claimed they would impact on the right to a fair trial.
Former BBC Scotland solicitor Alistair Bonnington claimed that Scotland's contempt of court laws were much too restrictive, and that a jury was "far more likely to be inflienced by what they heard in court than reading a very unsatisfactory newspaper report". He also warned against attempting to legislate on using social media because new forms would emerge that would not be covered.
Steven Raeburn of The Firm added that televising courts was a logical extension of justice being seen to be done, though he accepted that amateur users of technology presented a problem.
For the opposition, Donald Findlay QC maintained that to broadcast proceedings would drive a "coach and four" through the right of the accused to a fair trial based solely on the evidence led in court. It could also put the lives of the accused – even if acquitted – and witnesses at risk from people seeking vengeance.
Solicitor Aamer Anwar challenged the media, arguing their interest was not a concern for justice but for "the Hollywoodisation of our courts". He called for stronger contempt laws to take account of technological change and to penalise jurors who go online to find out whether an accused has previous convictions.
Campaigner Iain McKie, whose daughter Shirley was eventually cleared of perjury in connection with a disputed fingerprint in a murder investigation, proposed that the idea of trained "professional jurors" should be looked at, as a means of dealing with cases involving complex expert evidence. Mr Findlay however said that would be a "seismic shift" in the way the courts operated.
The offocial report of the proceedings will be posted at this link.