7 Comment trials

Would televising all trials contribute to our reality TV mentality?

Bored with the overdone Judge Judy and Jeremy Kyle-esque reality TV shows that dominate our daytime television, the possibility of watching real life court proceedings from your living room sofa may seem like an exciting prospect. Real-life, hard hitting intricacies of court proceedings have been glamorised, as can be seen with the recent surge in popularity of shows such as Making a Murderer (MAM), which made armchair-detectives of us all.

And perhaps if this is what the public want, it should be taken seriously. Anger and frustration at the criminal justice system, deriving from the popularity of shows such as MAM, has led to petitions and reviews of the flaws in police investigative work. And perhaps if we were to televise real-life criminal and civil proceedings, we may see some similar positive change. It could lead to reform, as the flaws in the system are publicly identified and protested.

The decision to allow TV cameras into crown courts has been introduced in the form of a three-month pilot scheme in eight different courts around England and Wales. It is part of a transparency project seeking to renew faith in the sentencing procedures of crown court cases, taking the form of filming sentencing remarks made by senior judges. The aim is to allow for a more transparent and accessible justice system. It should hopefully allow the public to feel more included in the proceedings of the courts; hearing and seeing the decisions of senior judges in their own words and manner, rather than repeated through tabloids.

Although on the face of it this decision seems harmless, the incentive simply does not outweigh the potential fallout. It is almost common knowledge that victims of sexual and domestic abuse are less likely to press charges in court due to the low chance of sentencing or protection.

There are many issues that contribute to this fear, ranging from the knowledge that victim protection schemes are stretched thin with inadequate funding, that cross examination carried out by the defence can often be intimidating and distressing, combined with the fact that prosecution and defence parties are often made to share common areas during breaks and intervals. To add into the mix that sensitive proceedings and evidence could be made readily available to the media is not only a harrowing thought, but borderline barbaric.

Now, of course, it is unlikely that such a reform would actually take place, and that we would be able to sit in our homes and watch a sensitive domestic abuse trial with a bowl of popcorn in our laps, all the while passing our own judgement and praising or criticising the effectiveness of the system.

But the positive encouragement for the televising of court proceedings is indicative of a wider problem we as a society have when it comes to empathy. Caught up in our reality TV shows we can become numb to the pain and despair that is the reality for the stars of Jeremy Kyle, and while we sit back and laugh, people are suffering day to day in miserable and undeserved circumstances.

We would do well to keep the line between entertainment and reality intact, and preserve the dignity and privacy of those who find themselves in such vulnerable circumstances.

Image: Alexander Smolianitski

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