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Justice Must Be Seen To Be Done

Justice Must Be Seen To Be Done

High profile murder trials often capture the public’s attention and the media has always sought to capitalise on that interest.  From before the trial of Burke and Hare in 1828 to the televised murder appeal of Amanda Knox in 2011 the appetite for reporting on murder trials has been insatiable.

The demand for information about such trials has intensified due to 24 hour news and social media. The courts in Scotland have been somewhat slow to react to these, and other, changes in the media. 

When Lord Hewart coined the infamous phrase “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” in 1923 he probably didn’t envisage the development of television let alone the advent of the digital age of mass media. 

Over the last few years, the Scottish courts have been trying to grapple with exactly how this important principle of justice should be interpreted when it comes to the filming and broadcasting of trials.

Cameras in court are certainly not a new innovation. The 1992 Practice Note provides that broadcasters can request in specific cases that cameras are allowed into court. But nearly a year on from the sentencing of David Gillroy in the High Court, the extent to which court filming and broadcasting is permitted is still under debate.

Although we are slightly ahead of England and Wales where filming is still not permitted in crown courts, it has taken 3 years of negotiation with the Judicial Office for Scotland, to be in a position to broadcast a documentary on Scotland’s highest profile murder trial of Nat Fraser.

The documentary, called “The Murder Trial”, will be on Channel 4 in the near future. It aims to show the process of justice in a Scottish High Court in an authentic way and to challenge some of the misconceptions that are created by the fictional court room dramas on our television screens. 

It is hoped that this may lead to a greater use of cameras in our courts. Open justice should clearly be welcomed. The general public should be given the opportunity to be in the position that they would have been in had they been able to sit in the public gallery for the duration of trials.

It does seem unlikely that the regular live broadcasting of trials will be permitted in Scotland in the foreseeable future but this documentary should enable many more people to see justice being done in this particular case.

Fiona McAllister
Senior Solicitor

LChalmers