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Cameras in court

Mark Coyle | 09:00 UK time, Thursday, 8 May 2008

There was a slightly surreal element to the experience of watching three Scottish judges delivering the Nat Fraser murder conviction appeal ruling.

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Surreal in the sense that only in exceptional circumstances - such as the Lockerbie trial - have cameras been allowed into our courts.

On this occasion, BBC Scotland had been given permission to record the Fraser decision being announced.

A number of their lordships, we were told, were keen to demystify the work of the courts and make what goes on there more transparent.

Certain ground rules were laid down in advance. We were only able to show the three judges and we could not show Fraser or any of the lawyers involved in the case.

If there were any interruptions from the packed public benches, we were prohibited from including this footage online or on television. In the event, there was none.

The judges rejected Fraser's claim that there had been a miscarriage of justice in finding him guilty of murdering his wife Arlene, whose body has never been found.

The ruling delivered, a tape was taken from the court in Edinburgh and beamed from a satellite truck to Glasgow.

BBC Scotland was the designated "pool" broadcaster, meaning that we supplied the footage to other media outlets as well.

Once received, the entire hearing, lasting just short of 18 minutes, was put on our website and excerpts were used later on television.

Between about noon and midnight on Tuesday, this video was viewed 7,400 times. A second, shorter clip was viewed 5,329 times.

But there was another act still to come. As he was led out of court, handcuffed to a custody officer, Fraser was walked past the waiting media. This too was captured on camera and the resulting footage was accessed 3,829 times online.

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The questions rang out: "Has justice been done?" "Where's Arlene, Mr Fraser?"

Fraser stopped and replied: "The fight will go on, as will the, the..."

The custody officer was pulling him towards the waiting prison van but Fraser wanted his moment.

In his North East dialect, he told the officer: "Hud on a second..." in the same way he might have asked a friend to wait for him while he chatted to a third person.

Before the officer's persistence won and Fraser was hauled towards the van, he stated: " will the fight to get to the truth." And then he was gone.

On a footnote, we hear through the grapevine that their lordships were pleased with the way their proceedings were handled by the media. It may be that more cases will be opened up in this way.

It transpires that shortly after we put the first video clip online, a grandchild of one of the judges rang him to say they'd seen him in court.

M'luds are, after all, human like the rest of us.


  • Comment number 1.

    It really shows you the impact of new technology and nice to see that the judges are for real and human... More of this!!

  • Comment number 2.

    What criteria do courts/media use to decide what information (if any) to release to the public while the court cases are actually happening?

  • Comment number 3.

    Well, I would be cautious.

    Firstly, because the nature of news clips is that they are short and 'sweet'; Probably the most fiery segment of prosecution's witness statement mixed with the judge's verdict. Or somesuch compilation. Judgements on their own might be useful, but only if the background to the case is outlined clearly.

    Secondly, my concern would be the reporting of cases which are controversial or high-profile. In my opinion there is the danger of the BBC's reporting becoming simplistic, as it was - and sometimes still is - with regards to business. Not guilty doesn't always mean innocent, and a guilty verdict can quite often be overturned.

    Of course this must be balanced against the benefits of having greater accessibility to justice - not everybody can walk in to a court and spend an hour or two listening to the goings-on.

  • Comment number 4.

    We should be careful when a camera should be allowed into a court room because they could victims of crimes. Such as a rape victim and or victim of domestic violence who is afraid for the
    life of themselves or family!

  • Comment number 5.

    Generally, i think allowing cameras in court is a sensible idea as long as it is properly introduced and well regulated, however if it starts becoming a problem with regards to protecting the identity of the innocent then the scheme should be swiftly removed.

  • Comment number 6.

    I certainly hope they allow a camera in the Jacob Zuma corruption trial next month ... that will certainly provide for some serious reality TV entertainment!


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