Today Sky News began a live stream on their website of proceedings before the Supreme Court. For the first time in British legal history court proceedings are being broadcast live to the wider public. The UK has a long history of public justice by having its courts open to the public in all but the most sensitive of matters. One would assume that live streams will not take place in matters where the court would be closed to the public because of matters of national security or where other sensitive matters are taking place.
I was able to watch about an hour of today’s proceedings and it didn’t appear that the fact the proceedings were being streamed on the internet live got in the way of the normal business of the court. What I witnessed was counsel as I would expect to see them in any other court, the Supreme Court judges acting in the way one would expect to see judges act. They seemed oblivious to the fact the proceedings were being streamed live – they were far too engrossed in section 83(2)(b) of the Finance Act 1989 to be worried about being streamed around the world on the internet.
One does wonder though just who will venture onto the Sky News website to watch the proceedings. One wouldn’t expect to see a particularly large rush of members of the public to the website and as such the most likely audience will be journalists, law students, lawyers and academics – people who one would generally expect to see sitting on the public benches in court.
This is an exciting development in the UK’s justice system and it will be interesting to see how it develops. Concerns will undoubtedly remain for sometime as to whether things that ought not to be broadcast get streamed live to the world and one would expect the court to be scrutinising carefully what is getting broadcast to ensure that there are no issues around contempt of court etc. With no witnesses appearing in the Supreme Court issues that face the lower courts in relation to broadcasting live do not exist. It will be interesting to observe how potentially sensitive matters in Criminal Appeals and Devolution minutes arise, especially when this requires the naming of witnesses as part of the case before the Supreme Court.
It’s a welcome move, but it is far too early to decide whether it has been one which enhances justice or hinders it; only time will allow an answer to that to be determined.