Officials warn against TV coverage of local courts

| 14/01/2014

(CNS): As the legal drafters begin the review of the contempt laws, which not only protect the principles and process of justice but also how the courts are covered in the media, officials have warned against TV coverage of local proceedings. While the drafters have said that given the consent of the judges reporters covering court should be allowed to use recorders, the idea of any type of camera in the courts has been dismissed. Pointing to high profile cases in the US that have been broadcast live, officials seeking public input have already recommended against televising the process of justice.

“The experience in the US, from the O J Simpson trial to the Zimmermann trial, does not fill us with any enthusiasm for permitting TV cameras into the courtroom,” the drafters state in a public consultation document.

Unlike in the UK and some other jurisdictions, here in Cayman there are no statutory provisions which regulate the use of cameras, tape recorders or any other apparatus for the making of video or sound recordings of court proceedings. In the UK it is a criminal offence to take a photograph in court and the Criminal Justice Act regulates the use of tape recorders without the leave of the court by declaring it to be contempt.

However, the legal drafters point out that taking notes during proceedings is already permitted and as those with shorthand skills can take as accurate an account as an official transcript, rather than banning recording devices the courts could easily regulate them.

“We would not be disposed to recommend that sound recording devices could be introduced without the leave of the court,” they wrote in the consultation but went on to state that as far as the media is concerned, providing there is no disruption to the proceedings it was difficult to see on what basis leave could properly be refused.

While audio may be considered acceptable, photographs and video are unlikely to find their way in to the court anytime soon. 

“We can see no good reason why anyone, including the media, should require this facility. There is no general rule which prevents photographs or video recordings being taken of anyone arriving at, or departing from, court and, in the case of newsworthy trials, such photographs or recordings are now common place.”

The drafters stated that a law is now needed here to introduce a specific criminal offence along the lines of the UK Criminal Justice Act to prevent pictures from being taken in the court.

Raising the question of TV cameras, the drafters said the criminal trials most likely to “excite the attention of the public” are the ones where cameras are likely “to be most objectionable”, and while cameras in the appeal court, which is now being partially covered in the UK by TV, may not be quite so objectionable, it was, they suggested, unlikely to be as attractive to broadcasters as it would not attract a sufficient number of viewers.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    On my planet and in the office which I work (I work in law) I can tell you that none of us have ever learnt anything from real court footage because it will be from the USA and we practice law under the principles of UK law, where it is illegal to film in a courtroom. So I have no idea what educational purpose court room tv has served to you, but it will categorically not help you in theCayman Islands. I would love to know which criminal attorneys you spoke with that have appeared on tv, I know a lot of them and none of them have ever worked in a jurisdiction where court proceedings are shown on tv.

    You and your family watch tv for educational purposes – how boring! Get out more – I would prefer the tv to be for entertainment because the educational value of television is zero – unless you are talking about Animal Planet etc (nothing to do with law!) . You should consider doing an online university course for education purposes – the tv cannot help you – you will not be called to the bar because you have sat through ten episodes of 'Judge Judy' or seen the OJ Simpson trial highlights!

    Your argument that you can't get to court because you work is the most ridiculous argument I've ever heard (and I've heard a few!). Just because you can't make it, doesn't mean the court should be made into a circus so you can get your fill on the days events. If it was of genuine significant interest to you and you were concerned about the transparency of proceedings then you would be there. If it's not that significant then read the report on CNS / Cayman 27 / Cayman Compass. Just because it doesn't fit your schedule does not detract from the transparency.

    In the many years I have been here and the thousands of hours I have spent in court I have never seen the public gallery full – I stand to be corrected but has anyone reading this ever seen a full gallery for a trial. Even on Friday mornings (grand court mentions) when the court is busiest there is still always room. I agree that the McKeeva Bush trial is of interest – but I still have my doubts about whether the court room will be full. There hasn't been more or less attendance at any of his previous appearances.

    If a member of public goes to court for entertainment then that’s up to them, it must mean something to them if they’ve made the effort to attend – whatever their motive – but let’s not help people of that type by broadcasting live into their living room.

    The reverence of the courtroom should be respected. Because the public have an insatiable desire to know everything is not a reason to undermine those principals and I would be extremely surprised if you find anyone that has been called to the bar that wishes to have proceedings broadcast on television to satisfy the whim of a few people that want to see justice in progress from the comfort of their living room.

    Will you be asking that tv cameras are placed in all government buildings so we can tune into that too? I live on planet earth – on the same island as you, where I would prefer we had some class and integrity when justice is served – rather than tuning into E! court to see the downfall (or not) of Joe Public.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There is simply no good reason to forbid televised court proceedings. Transparency and more information is ALWAYS better than less information.. even when you think it's overly sensational or not productive.  There should be nothing to hide from the people.  Why promote censorship? What's your agenda?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why would anyone in the Cayman Islands  think it is a good idea to televise our court proceedngs? and when is Cayman  going to stop following the United Sates in their demise? Is there anything tha is respected and honored any longer? 

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cayman Please

    Stop the madness and stop following America. STOP THE MADNESS

  5. Anonymous says:

    There will always be arguments against greater transparency and openness, but we should resist them.  Government prosecuters will likely balk at the idea as it could lead to more aquittals, where the cases have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Audio-visual recordings should however lead to greater competence and make corruption or collusion in the system less likely, perhaps we should try that as a first step, before broadcasting on TV.

    The current system where there are no verbatim transcipts from the Summary Court is a travesty of justice. One only has to look at the Judge Levers case to see the importance of verbatim transcripts.


    • Anonymous says:

      What planet are you on?

      The courts here are open to the public, so anyone with an interest in a case can go to court and see what is happening.

      There is a world of difference between transparency and entertainment. Showing cases on TV is entertainment. Having public access to the court is transparency.

      The USA may show cases on TV – that doesn't make it a good idea!

      • Just Commentin' says:

        Blanket statement #1: "Showing cases on TV is entertainment"

        ???  Huh? Really? What planet are you from?  There are people who produce and watch TV programming for purposes other than entertainment. In courses I have taken – including law courses – watching TV was always an educational exercise. I know of several attorneys who watch court cases – including ones they were in – on TV to learn how to improve their court demeanour and courtroom skills, as well as learn what not to do.  I and my family still watch many TV programmes with the primary aim of acquiring knowledge rather than being entertained. Do they do that on your planet? Nah. I guess not.

        If your comment is any indication, rather than using it as a learning tool, the sole use of TV on your planet may well be mindless entertainment; in my house, not so much.

        Blanket statement: #2 "The courts here are open to the public, so anyone with an interest in a case can go to court and see what is happening."

        REALLY?  Anyone? Does that include everyone with an interest?

        Unlike the planet you come from, in the Cayman Islands, planet Earth, many of us work during the day. I know a good number of people, including myself, who over the years would have sat to watch certain cases unfold if not for the need to earn a living.  You see, we earthlings have to eat and pay bills and such. Do they have to do stuff like this on your planet? 

        Say, what if we who had an interest in a case could just get off work whenever we wanted to watch the case in the courtroom? Suppose 500 of us wanted to watch a certain Grand Court case. What then?  Do you have a blanket statement to cover this?  How do they handle such issues on your planet?  Just curious.

        During the infamous O.J. Simpson case only 10 spectators from the general public were allowed in the courtroom at any one time. Many, many more wanted to watch the case but were turned away.  Those who wanted to get spectator seats had to practically camp out on the sidewalk. This is not unusual in high-profile cases. I wonder what will happen during the upcoming Makeeva Bush trial? Will there be enough room in the courtroom for those of  us who want to watch the case live? Will people be turned away? If so, what will be your blanket statement then? Just wondering.

        One more thing: What if a member of the public says he wants to sit and watch a case in the courtroom solely for the purposes of entertainment? Should such people be barred from the courtroom? How do they handle such situations on your planet?  Inquring minds want to know. (Or maybe we are just here on this CNS page for the entertainment.)