The end of October saw TV cameras allowed into one of the highest courts in England and Wales for the very first time, in what a number of senior judges and major broadcasters have described as a landmark moment.
Filming at the Court of Appeal followed a partial lifting of the long-standing ban on cameras in court and stated that; lawyers’ arguments and judges’ comments can appear but defendants, witnesses and victims will not be shown.
Responses to the lifting of the ban have been unsurprisingly mixed: ITN chief executive John Hardie said filming in courts would be; “for the benefit of open justice and democracy”, whereas Labour peer Baroness Kennedy QC said she was worried the development could undermine respect for the judicial system.
While this development marks a sea-change within the British judicial system, the real question we should ask ourselves is; are we really that surprised?
Interestingly earlier this month the current Lord Chief Justice in England, (Lord Thomas), said that the legal system needed to “loosen up” over its use of technology, adding “there are innovative ways of providing open justice bearing in mind things such as Skype and FaceTime”.
While Lord Thomas’ comments should be taken seriously, don’t expect trial by Skype or Facetime anytime soon. The importance of his comments is however twofold: yes, it marks a change in institutional attitudes towards technology and change overall; it more importantly emphasizes the way that technology has completely been accepted into British society, from quite literally the corridors of power, to the man/woman on the street.
The Queen; the Prime Minister; the London Stock Exchange; Boris Johnson; the cast of Made in Chelsea and even my Mother have Twitter and Facebook accounts. Barclays and HSBC practically rely upon IM style apps for internal real-time communications, and Skype conferencing is becoming the norm within the wider business community as consumer apps increasingly improve towards enterprise grade capabilities.
The evolution of technology and its uses within society is nothing new, and in 21st century Britain with its rapidly expanding tech economy it is here to stay. The inclusion of cameras in the courtroom is simply another indication of this.
Maybe the omission of technology from the court room for so long says more about the stiff upper lip associated with British institutions than anything else, and maybe the new cohort of tech literate Britons will herald the beginning of a wholly new set of traditions for the generations yet to come – both are interesting ideas to consider!