Lights, Camera, Action…Should Our Justice System Be Public?

Hannah Walton-Hughes

In light of what has become known as the ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, which received international press coverage, the question remains: what is the impact of ‘opening up’ our justice system to the public? How different is learning about a trial through media coverage compared to attending the trial in person? Impact’s Hannah Walton-Hughes discusses this issue. 

Media coverage brought us the intense ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial, where Coleen Rooney accused Rebekah Vardy of leaking stories about her to The Sun. The trial began after Vardy decided to sue Rooney for libel.  

By keeping the public directly involved, it would help to eliminate any myths about the judicial system

There can be no doubt that information from the media can often present a skewed or even fake version of proceedings. News outlets and magazines have the power to give us information in a way that sways our opinions one way or another. Therefore, the question remains whether or not the justice system should remain hidden from the prying eyes of the public.  

On one hand, televising court cases could be seen as beneficial. For example, by keeping the public directly involved, it would help to eliminate any myths about the judicial system and increase people’s confidence in it. Morally, it can also be strongly argued that the public have a right to know what is happening in these high-profile civil suits, as the courtroom is technically a “public forum”.  

The portrayal of the defendant is always more guilty when a camera is pointing directly at them

Nevertheless, there are perhaps even more reasons why publicised trials are a bad idea. The presence of television equipment in the court would be distracting for all involved for one matter, with the risk of lawyers “playing” to the camera instead of focusing on the trial, and the jury not focusing on the trial to the fullest extent. 

In terms of the defendant and witnesses, media coverage is likely to impact their experience and response to the trial. The already high stakes are likely to be viewed as higher with video cameras pointing at them, and this distress could reduce the desired “free flow of information”. Furthermore, the actual portrayal of the defendant is always more guilty when a camera is pointing directly at them. Worryingly, this could actually increase the number of (possibly false) guilty verdicts.  

Television is “inherently biased” and tends to sensationalise trials

Despite this, it can be argued that television equipment today is significantly more discreet and less bulky than it was in the past, and that people in the modern day and age are more familiar with it.  

Following on from the above point, television is “inherently biased” and tends to sensationalise trials. This would contribute to false perceptions by the public, and increase the reputation of some media outlets as biased and unreliable. This distorted view would also contribute to people’s vindication of members of the courtroom, and may lead to more online abuse of participants.  

Overall, whilst it is important to keep the public up to date on the progression of high-profile cases, I believe that media coverage of the courtroom causes more damage than good. There is no comparison between attending a trial in person, and simply learning about it through news outlets. In my opinion, the highlights of the trial could be reported, without necessarily having accompanying footage, and some sort of trial summary should be published, once the trial has concluded. 

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Lou Levit via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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