TELEVISION N TRIAL
The Advocate: Frances McMenamln smdes Waugh "'8 courts
Will allowing cameras into the courts undermine our judicial system or help modernise it? Eddie Gibb takes some witness statements.
hey call it justice. but at the end of the day it’s just a decision.’ says George More, whose terrier-like defences of clients are renowned in Edinburgh’s criminal courts. An overly cynical view? Perhaps, but for the ﬁrst time you. ladies and gentlemen of the armchair jury. are being given the chance to make up your own minds.
How these judicial decisions are taken is now the subject of a compelling documentary series The Trial, made after permission was granted to ﬁlm in a British court for the first time. That the go-ahead was given in Scotland is partly due to our different juidicial system: England’s top legal brains are still humming and hawing over whether to make the necessary legislative changes down south. But credit is also due to a far-sighted decision by the most seniorjudge in the land, Lord Hope.
After MPs had voted to allow cameras into Parliament, the next closed door of the establishment which broadcasters wanted to open was the law courts. Not that any of them were pushing particularly hard for courtroom access, but Lord Hope, the Lord President, realised it was inevitable that sooner or later television companies would clamour to be let in.
In 1992 Lord Hope issued a surprise statement giving a broad hint that he was be prepared to listen to applications for permission to ﬁlm in the Scottish courts. He realised the legal system was regarded as anachronistic by the public, and hoped that allowing cameras limited access might help improve the courts’ image.
A number of producers jumped at the chance to make television history, but after initial discussions with the Lord President’s ofﬁce, it became clear that cameras would only be allowed into court under heavy restrictions. Everyone who had expressed interest dropped away, leaving only the BBC’s documentary department round the negotiating table. Producer Nick Catliff persisted and after six months of protracted discussion with Lord Hope, he emerged with a set of guidelines which will now be the starting point for any future attempt to ﬁlm in court.
These guidelines, which Catliff describes as ‘onerous’, are based on three basic principles: producers are required to secure the consent of anyone ﬁlmed in court; the presiding judge has a veto over ﬁlming at any stage; and no footage can be transmitted until the trial and subsequent appeals are ﬁnished.
The ﬁrst point goes a long way to allaying fears of civil liberties campaigners about the rights of the accused. Catliff’s experience of ﬁlming in the Scottish courts suggests witnesses are more likely to refuse to be ﬁlmed than defendants. ‘When they came to the court, I said I wasn’t bothered if I was on telly or not,’ says Robert Hunter-Allan, one of the accused who appears in the dock on The Trial.
The restriction on when footage is transmitted rules out the American style of court television where the juicy bits from the day’s proceedings are relayed on the evening news (see panel). That was no problem for a documentary series like The Trial, which aims to show the nuts and
12 The List 18 November—l December 1994