Cameras have a place in court

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am


In keeping with the maxim that 'justice must be done and must be seen to be done' our courts are open to all - for free. But very few Hong Kong people exercise their right to go to court just to watch the proceedings. If interesting cases were heard in the evenings or at weekends and were widely advertised, like public entertainment or spectator sport, people might queue to see justice being done. As it is, the media serves as a window on the courts. But in Hong Kong they remain one of the last taboos for television cameras. That is a pity, because open justice is a good thing.

As former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross argued in these pages recently, more should be done to make the judicial process more understandable and familiar to the public. Television cameras have a legitimate role to play, as they do in televising the proceedings of the Legislative Council.

Fears that allowing TV cameras into legislatures here and elsewhere would encourage self-promoting theatrics by lawmakers at the expense of serious debate have proved largely groundless. It has brought legislatures closer to the voters. Likewise critics of the filming of court cases fear it could bring the legal system into disrepute, for example through 'grandstanding' by lawyers. That has not proved the case in many countries where camera access to courts has been allowed from time to time. Now the ban on broadcasting from the law courts in England and Wales is to be relaxed for appeal cases, the delivery of judgments and sentencing remarks by judges. It will still apply to filming of defendants, witnesses and jurors, who might find cameras disconcerting where professionals would not.

Given that open justice is a fundamental principle of our legal system, access for television cameras would simply bring it into the modern age. So long as protections are in place for defendants, jurors and lay witnesses - which may not be necessary for professional and expert witnesses - there is no reason to fear for the quality of justice if our courts opened the door to cameras.