§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Dr. Mike Woodcock (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We in this country are rightly proud of our system of justice and our democratic institutions, which are among the finest in the world. That does not mean, however, that they do not need to change with the times, that they are incapable of change or that they ought to be set in stone. What man does not change for the better, time—that great innovator—will change for the worse.
My modest measure aims to improve both our democratic institutions and our system of justice. It seeks to make improvements, rather than radical changes, and to do so only through measured trial and research. It does not seek change for the sake of change; it seeks change principally because I believe that the passage of time has made change desirable. It seeks to change for the better those things that the great innovator, time, has changed for the worse.
It may come as a surprise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to learn that one of the two major issues addressed in the Bill has never before been debated in this place. Whatever the outcome of today's debate, it is clear that the subjects that it will raise demand parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that the debate itself will provide some of that scrutiny, and that, having listened to what I and others have to say, the House will see fit to give the Bill a Second Reading. Above all, I hope that those who oppose change, and who wish our judicial system to be set in stone, will not seek to 550 prevent further discussion in Committee or to prevent the research, testing, experimentation and trial that the Bill facilitates.
Before I tell the House what the Bill does, I will take the unusual step of explaining what it does not do. Most of the arguments against it seem to be based on grave misconceptions about its intentions. I will deal first with two of those misconceptions. First, the Bill does not seek to introduce television as a permanent feature of our courts; it seeks to do something much more simple—to test the arguments for and against it. The testing of those arguments may, of course, lead to the conclusion that cameras should be allowed into certain courts and for certain purposes, but it may equally lead to the conclusion that they ought not to be allowed into courts in any circumstances. Today's debate essentially concerns whether the arguments for and against television in the courts should be tested—it is not about whether television should be a permanent feature.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
Surely the ultimate purpose of the Bill is the permanent televising of the courts; otherwise, there would be no point in introducing it.
§ Dr. Woodcock
That is not true. My purpose is to test the arguments. The televising of the courts is banned by legislation enacted 11 years before commercial television was available. It has not been debated or given a fair trial.
§ Dr. Woodcock
I will when I have answered the last intervention.
I have already said that the experiment on televising the courts may lead to the conclusion that television should not be allowed in the courts.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, particularly given the peremptory way in which I tried to intervene. Is he not being a little unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson)? Many of these arguments were debated when we considered televising the House. There was no doubt that once television was introduced it would stay to cover all our proceedings. Is that not a legitimate fear about the Bill?
§ Dr. Woodcock
In some respects it is a legitimate fear, but the trials—the Bill does not suggest how the trials should be conducted—will be conducted under the proper supervision of the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the presiding judge. They must ensure that the experiments are conducted fairly and reasonably. The trials may conclude that television should not be allowed in our courts. The Bill tests the arguments, nothing more and nothing less.
We rightly say in this country that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. Anyone who genuinely believes in that principle should not stand in the way of an experiment that would test whether justice can be seen to be done to a greater extent. I have heard arguments against the Bill based on the possibility of the sensational coverage of trials, such as the showing of rape victims or children. Such coverage is prohibited by other legislation and by the rules of court. The Bill poses no danger in that respect.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
Will my hon. Friend confirm—if not now, then in Committee—that the Bill will not continue the absolute bar on cases involving children? There is considerable concern—not only in my constituency, I suspect—that the balance in cases involving children, especially those involving the sexual abuse of children by adults, is weighted too heavily in favour of the authorities representing the child. That may be redressed only if an adult can be seen to put the adult's case in public, albeit in carefully controlled conditions. I am asking my hon. Friend not to consider making a massive change, but, perhaps at a later stage of the Bill, to consider whether that absolute barrier is appropriate.
§ Dr. Woodcock
My Bill does not deal with those matters, which should be considered in places more appropriate than this. It aims only to amend legislation to allow an experiment. I wish neither to support my hon. Friend nor to oppose him. Those matters are not within the scope of the Bill.
If television were to become a permanent feature of our courts, it would have to be only for appropriate cases. It should have to conform with tightly drawn rules and always be under the supervision of the trial judge. Television should never be allowed in our courts if it could act against the interests of justice.
The Bill does not remove the statutory ban on the interviewing of jurors. It makes a limited exception to that rule, because it allows the merits of interviewing jurors to be weighed only in approved research projects. I would argue against the unbridled questioning of jurors, but I am not saying that jurors should never be questioned for any purpose. However, the purpose of the Bill is not permanently to introduce television in our courts or to facilitate the unbridled questioning of jurors.
The Bill aims to modify statutory restrictions which, in absolute terms, are no longer justified and are not in the interests of an open system of justice. I refer to section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, which prohibits photography in courts, section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, which prohibits sound recordings in court, except for the purposes of assisting the official written transcript, and section 8 of that Act, which prohibits the interviewing of jurors. The Bill would amend the law in England and Wales not by removing those restrictions but by making certain and limited exceptions to them to permit approved pilot projects and research.
The Bill would enable the arguments for televising the courts to be tested in strictly controlled conditions. It would allow the resulting evidence to be assessed before a final decision was taken on whether court proceedings should be permanently broadcast. We cannot rightly take that decision without the evidence. My Bill seeks to introduce and weigh that evidence.
The Bill would enable the merits of interviewing jurors for approved research to be weighed to see whether the administration of our criminal justice system could be improved and the task of jurors better facilitated.
The background to the proposal to televise the courts begins in 1988, when the public affairs committee of the Bar Council established a working party under the chairmanship of Mr. Jonathan Caplan. Its objective was to report on the desirability and feasibility of televising court proceedings in England and Wales. It took a year to complete its task, during which time it assessed the position in other countries, visited the United States to see 552 the televising of state courts, and liaised with broadcasters, lawyers and other interested parties here and abroad. It found that in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United States and the European Court of Human Rights, there was some—albeit limited—experience of televising court proceedings.
The working party's report was published in 1989 and covered four matters: first, the background to the parliamentary ban on court photography, which was enacted in 1925; secondly, a countrywide analysis of the televising of courts; thirdly, the arguments for and against televising courts; and, finally, an assessment of recent technological developments and discussion of how television in the courts might be arranged on a strictly controlled basis.
The report presented eight principal conclusions. First, the absolute ban on cameras was no longer justified. Secondly, pilot projects in appellate and trial courts should now take place, but only under the aegis of the responsible departments—that is, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Home Office. Thirdly, potential broadcasters must apply in each case to the trial judge or the court for permission to cover the proceedings. Fourthly, the trial judges should have the discretion to allow or refuse applications, but refusal should be subject to the right of appeal.
The report's fifth conclusion was that, even if the application were allowed, the trial judge would retain the power to exclude the camera from any part of the proceedings if he felt that it was right to do so in the interests of justice. The sixth conclusion was that any such exclusion during the trial should be subject to the right of appeal but that the proceedings should not be delayed while the appeal was in progress. Penultimately, the report concluded that broadcasters should be subject to strict rules of coverage inside the court regarding what they may or may not film and the manner in which they film it. Finally, it suggested that, like the printed media, televising should be subject to the law of contempt so that only fair and accurate reports of proceedings made in good faith could be published. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) wish me to give way, because I can hear a great deal of what he is saying?
§ Dr. Woodcock
In February 1990, the Bar Council universally endorsed the report's recommendations for pilot projects in courts. It then decided to seek an amendment to the law to enable such projects to take place. In September 1990, the annual conference of the Bar Council organised a workshop in conjunction with the Canadian Bar Association, at which English, American and Canadian judges debated the issue of the televising of court proceedings. At that workshop, there was widespread support for such pilot projects.
Many people support the principle of televising courts and there are many arguments in favour of it. I shall advance 10 of the principal arguments this morning. Many more exist, but I do not wish to detain the House too long and I wish to give all hon. Members who wish to speak the opportunity to do so. I also hope to give other hon. Members a chance to introduce their Bills today.
To date, the experience of laywers abroad in jurisdictions where televising courts is allowed has been overwhelmingly favourable. Technology has advanced so 553 much in recent years that it is possible to achieve broadcast quality without intrusive apparatus. Furthermore, very few people have the time, resources or will to attend trials, even assuming that the courts could accommodate them. The vast majority of people rely for their understanding of what happens at trials on second-hand reports in the media, on television, on reporters speaking to cameras outside courts, on dramatic reconstructions and on the notorious artist's sketch which must be made outside the court and from memory. In essence, those are second-hand reports of what happens in court and they are no substitute for personal observation. Provided that it is in the interests of justice, it must be right that people should be given the maximum opportunity to see justice in action.
The ban on photography in courts enacted in 1925 was never intended to apply to television. It concerned sensational still photography. The briefing note that was given to Ministers at the time of that debate said that theobject of this clause is to prevent the objectionable practice of publishing sensational photographs of prisoners in the dock, in court or leaving court".At the time of that debate, television was not available. The first BBC television service was not launched until 1936 and it was not until a year later that the first outside broadcast took place—the coronation of King George VI. The 1925 ban was simply extended to television without debate once television became available. That extension was an unforeseen consequence of the 1925 legislation. In reality, Parliament has never had the opportunity to consider the issue of televising our courts. I believe that it is unreasonable to have an effective ban on cameras in court when the issue has never been debated in this place. Unlike those in some countries, our courts are not televised not because the issue has been properly considered but due to an unforeseen consequence of previous legislation.
A further reason for the introduction of cameras is that television is now by far the most important news medium. More than 70 per cent. of the population rely on it as their principal source of information on current events. It must surely be questionable to ban the use of a medium on which such a large proportion of the population rely. It is important that people should have confidence in our judiciary and legal system, and that can best be achieved by allowing the public to see judges, lawyers and the police at work and to see how courts make their decisions. Many court rulings, particularly High Court and appellate court rulings, are as important to daily life as the legislative decisions that we make in this place. Why should the public not be able to see how decisions are made when those decisions have a profound effect on their lives?
Television has an informative and educational value, which would be enhanced if it were allowed into courts. Many young people have never been into a court room. For them to see justice at work would increase their respect for legal processes and the rule of law. Moreover, if the camera were allowed into criminal trials,, potential offenders might be deterred by what they see on television. If we are concerned, as we should be, to educate and interest young people in the workings of the legal system, it is absurd to ignore the most popular medium of mass communication.
We should also consider the fact that we now have television in this place and in the other place. Most people outside now regard the televising of Parliament as a success. Many arguments were advanced against televising 554 Parliament and they are principally the same arguments as those that may be advanced against the televising of courts. Many hon. Members who were originally opposed to televising the House now accept that it has been beneficial. The other place took a lead in the experiment and I hope that this House will take a lead in the televising of courts. The public has a prima facie right to see how laws are made and administered. The televising of courts in the appropriate circumstances can make that right a reality.
The televising of courts may raise standards by highlighting inefficient procedures, shaming inarticulate advocates or unfair judges. It could open up procedures and practices to more public gaze, thus increasing pressure for higher standards.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the principle that justice should not only be done but be seen to be done means that there is a presumption in favour of open justice. Unless courts are sitting in camera or in chambers, they are not private places. By their very nature, they are open to the public and must be so if justice is to be seen to be done. In reality, the space available in the courts means that they are open to only a few people. A limit is imposed not by principle but by the space available. Therefore, allowing people to see on television what they could see if they could attend extends the principle of open justice. That must be right, provided that it does not interefere with the course of justice.
Those are the principal arguments for televising our courts and a spacious case based on those arguments could be made for changing the law now to allow cameras in certain courts. I do not seek to make that argument and neither does my Bill. I am not suggesting that those arguments are conclusive; my Bill merely removes the restrictions that prevent those arguments being put to the test.
Some people are deeply suspicious of what would happen if we allowed television cameras in our courts. Some believe that television, by nature, is more concerned with entertainment than with education. Others believe that television would trivialise court proceedings. Some of that may be true, but entertainment is not the only function of television—it also has an educative and informative function. The American judge Justice Moore recently said:That which is carried out with dignity will not become undignified because more people may be permitted to see and hear it".Others argue that television can be obtrusive and disruptive. The television cameras that may be recording you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and me at this moment are so diminutive as to be scarcely noticeable. Cameras of that type could be used in our courts.
Perhaps the most important argument against allowing television cameras in our courts is that they might deter potential witnesses from attending or might affect their testimony in some way. If that happened, would not support televising our courts and would consider them only for the appellate courts, where witnesses do not appear. However, the evidence from most countries that have experimented with cameras in the courts does not support that argument.
In the late 1970s, the supreme court of Florida authorised a one-year experiment in televising all its state courts. During that year more than 2,750 people took part in televised trials either as the judge, attorney, juror, 555 witness or court official. All were asked to provide a report of their experience and to complete a questionnaire. The principal results of that experiment showed that the presence of the camera had little effect on the dignity of the proceedings. It was found that the presence of cameras disrupted a trial "not at all" or "very slightly". The participants' awareness of the camera averaged between slight and moderate. Jurors and witnesses thought that the presence of the cameras made them feel slightly more responsible for their actions and the ability of jurors to judge the truthfulness of witnesses was not perceived to be affected. Jurors deemed that they did not find that the cameras had a distracting effect, while witnesses and attorneys found that that effect was only slight. There was no significant difference in participants' concern about appearing on television as opposed to their names appearing in newspapers. The court personnel and attorneys perceived that the presence of cameras made participating attorneys' actions only slightly more flamboyant. The evidence from Florida suggests that the presence of cameras does not adversely affect the quality of justice or distort the legal process.
In 1981, after the conclusion of the experiment, the supreme court of Florida put the argument for televising courts most succinctly. It stated:Courtrooms were intimidating long before the advent of electronic media. Trials with considerable public interest had always resulted in courtrooms full of spectators, news reporters and sketch artists, all of whom add to the intimidation of the courtroom atmosphere. In our view, the single addition of the camera in the courtroom in these circumstances should not increase tension significantly, given the fact that electronic media will report the proceedings whether or not its camera is actually in the courtroom.I do not seek to rely on the conclusions of the Florida experiment, but we should test the arguments for televising our courts in the same way as they were tested in Florida. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that some trials would not be suitable for inclusion in the pilot projects that would result if my Bill is passed. Whatever pilot projects were allowed, they would have to be subject to serious restrictions as to what could or could not be filmed.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the great care that he has taken to try to persuade me that his Bill is right in the first place. My hon. Friend has just referred to electronic media reporting a trial in any event, but he will agree that that would not apply in this country. I do not know whether there are radio broadcasts of proceedings in Florida, but I do not see how that argument applies here.
§ Dr. Woodcock
I am not seeking to use the evidence from the Florida experiment to try to persuade hon. Members that our courts should be televised. I simply mentioned that experiment to show that it is possible to undertake such an experiment and to judge the results. I believe that we should undertake similar experiments and then decide whether to televise our courts on the basis of experience. I mentioned the Florida experiment merely to demonstrate that it is possible to have trials and to come to conclusions. I do not suggest that our conclusions would be the same as those reached in Florida.
Even if pilot projects were undertaken, however, they would have to be subject to serious restrictions. One might state that there should be no visual coverage of the jury or 556 of any witnesses whose identity is protected by law. It might be decided that there should be no visual coverage of any person if such coverage is liable to endanger his safety. It might be decided that there should be no coverage of proceedings in chambers, in camera or in respect of any order under the Contempt of Court Act 1981. It may be decided that no visual coverage should be given to documents or to the advocates' benches. Any conferences in court between lawyers and clients might be exempt from audio coverage.
I do not suggest that those restrictions should necessarily be applied in this country—I am merely suggesting the type of restrictions that could be considered. My Bill does not propose any such restrictions as I believe that they should be drawn up by the proper judicial authorities.
The Bill does not propose that television should be a permanent feature of our courts. It does not specify the type of court that would be suitable for any experiment or the restrictions to be applied. It merely facilitates the testing of the arguments for and against as a result of well-managed and constructed experiments. Such experiments could be undertaken only by making exceptions to section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and to section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
My Bill does not argue for a permanent change in the law, but merely for the opportunity to test the arguments for and against televising our courts under strictly controlled conditions and judicial supervision. The real arguments for and against televising can then be considered on the basis of objective evidence—the same evidence that the courts seek when deciding on the facts and cases before them. That evidence is not available today. Those hon. Members who regularly practise in our courts should not deny to people wishing to see our proceedings televised the same trial of evidence that they demand in courts when using those courts on behalf of their clients.
The second and equally important provision of the Bill relates to jury research and would allow carefully controlled research on how juries reach decisions. In 1981 Parliament prohibited all interviewing of jurors about their deliberations in the jury room. Hon. Members will recall that that prohibition was imposed after some sections of the press probed the secrets of the jury room in certain celebrated cases. The main principle behind that ban was correct, but unfortunately it has had some undesirable consequences. By preventing the improper questioning of jurors, we have also prevented the questioning of jurors for proper purposes.
My Bill does not alter the rules against publicising how a particular jury voted or approached its task in a particular case, but it attempts to enable approved research to take place—always without publicly identifying particular trials. The Bill would facilitate the interviewing of jurors for certain specified and approved research projects only.
The jury is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. It is important for us to consider, for example, how jurors might be aided in their task and how well juries follow the evidence. Do juries in particular cases feel that the legal issues have been put into simple and clear focus? How important is the judge's summing up at the end of a trial? How does a jury feel that its task might have been made easier? In effect, how could justice be done better? Those are just a few of the possible questions. We do not 557 know the answers because we are not allowed to ask the questions. Are juries to be the only institutions deemed incapable of improvement? We should constantly seek to improve and refine our system of justice, but we cannot do so if we are not allowed to ask relevant questions.
That point becomes even more important as jurors are asked to grapple with increasingly lengthy and complex fraud trials. The present Lord Chancellor, when he was Lord Advocate, said:The jury system, great institution that it is, surely can stand up to properly conducted research.If the motive of those who are against interviewing jurors is that we may be disturbed by what we discover, the sooner we lift the veil from the jury room, the better. If there is something fundamentally wrong with our jury system, we should expose it and correct it rather than try to conceal it.
We have an excellent legal system in this country. It is the envy of much of the world, but that does not mean that it is incapable of improvement. The jury is the cornerstone of British justice, so we must constantly ask whether we can improve the operation of the jury system. Our courts cannot and should not he set in stone. Their efficiency should be tested. As with any other institution, their operations should be improved wherever possible. We are all proud to live in a free, democratic country, but we need to do more than simply proclaim that fact. All that is required for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing. There is a responsibility on all of us constantly to seek ways of updating and improving our democratic system, including our courts.
I present to the House a Bill which has at its roots the aim of improving the British judicial system. Its aim is to make the judicial system more open. Open justice. like open government, is desirable and achievable. My Bill will change nothing of itself—it will merely allow questions to be asked, trials to be made and arguments to be weighed. It will allow a fair trial of the evidence, just as the courts seek a fair trial of the evidence in the cases that they try.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is a modest Bill, but it is a good Bill which deserves the support of the House. Just as there needs to be a trial of evidence in our courts, there needs to be a trial of evidence about our courts. I hope that those hon. Members who support proper trials of evidence in our courts will not try to prevent a proper trial of evidence about our courts.
We owe it to our electorate—70 per cent. of whom rely on television as the main source of their information on current affairs and any of whom may be called to serve on juries—to test whether our courts can be made more open to them and whether their potential task as jurymen can be better facilitated. That is what my Bill would achieve—and nothing more. I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind. It is a good Bill which deserves a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Of course, I declare my interest as a practising criminal lawyer, but my interest probably moves in two ways. The Bill has been backed by my trade union, the Bar Council. It is in favour of the Bill; I am not. Therefore, one can see that the declaration of my interest does not necessarily diminish the strength of my argument.
This is an excellent topic for debate, particularly on a Friday. I take very much to heart the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmore Port and Neston (Dr. 558 Woodcock) pointed out that the subject had not been discussed and aired before in the House. I believe that it should be and I pay great credit to my hon. Friend for introducing this important Bill.
I hope that my hon. Friend will not think me even remotely patronising when I say that his case was excellently argued. If ever he gave up this place, he would have an excellent future as an advocate in our courts—whether he would want to be an advocate after these experiments have been concluded is a different matter. I am a little sad that my hon. Friend has not put his undoubted ability and talent to use on a Bill with more chance of securing wide support throughout the country and one that would do more to benefit British society. I am afraid that the Bill, if it ever reaches the statute book, is unlikely to do that. If one were to test the amount of interest that this important subject commands among all groups of opinion in this place, one need only look at the serried ranks of interested people on the other side of the Chamber.
My hon. Friend argues, beguilingly, that justice should be more widely seen to be done. I agree, but not if justice is to be turned into a media circus, for the harm done to justice by that step would far outweigh any good that would come. If people want to see the courts at work, they have only to go there. If they want to read what goes on in court, they have only to read the newspapers and the books. Plenty of evidence is available. There are few occasions when one cannot get into the public gallery of a court.
It is true that there are some sensational trials on which public attention is riveted because they involve particularly titillating sexual matters, with connotations of great interest to the public, or child abuse, murder or serious personal issues. But those are precisely the trials in which my hon. Friend envisages tight controls and exclusion. The cases that he believes should be televised are cases where members of the ordinary public, if they are interested in the way in which our legal system operates, would have no difficulty in getting into court.
My hon. Friend said that television would foster a better understanding of the legal process. I have no doubt that it would, but there is no point in that happening if the legal process is made worse by the measure. It is more important that the legal process should be good than that more people should see a less good legal process in operation. All one needs to do to understand the legal process—if it is possible to understand it—is, after reading the books, to go to the courts, which are open to all.
My hon. Friend said that television would create confidence in the legal system. It might, but it might not. If it becomes a worse system, confidence would be diminished. If it became a worse system because television was in the courts, it would weaken public confidence, not strengthen it. My hon. Friend said that the system would be rather like the televising of Parliament, which has turned out not to be so bad, although there are differing views about that. That is a thoroughly bad argument. Parliament debates issues, not the private lives and thoughts of individuals.
Parliament exposes its participants to television because they want and are prepared to be exposed to it. It is a voluntary process. If we did not want television, we should not have it here. If we do not like appearing on television, we need not speak. Will the defendant, the witness, the counsel or the jury have any choice once 559 television is brought into the courts? At the beginning of a trial, will the counsel, the potential witnesses, the jury and everyone involved be asked whether they are happy to have a television camera in court? If so, our courts will never be televised and the Bill will have been a total waste of time. If not, televising will be obligatory if the judge considers that it is proper. That is very different from what happens in this place.
The most important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is that the Bill is intended only as a trial, an experiment, a pilot scheme, an approved project and research. He said that it was a "modest Bill" and merely a test. Anyone who believes that that is all that the Bill intends must be very naive. No television company would invest substantial sums of money in pilot schemes, approved projects, tests and research unless it hoped that the benefits would redound in the company's coffers.
There are two types of television company. One is privately owned and funded, and has shareholders who wish to know whether the money being invested—and money was very expensively invested in this place as it would have to be expensively invested in the courts—is producing a reward. The second type of company is subsidised by the state and paid for by the taxpayer. The taxpayer is also concerned that there should be a reasonable return on his investment. Both types of company have a financial interest in the success of projects. They must satisfy their shareholders or the taxpayer.
Once a pilot scheme has been set up, at considerable cost, the pressure will be on for permanence. That is the true comparison to televising Parliament. I remember the arguments about the pilot scheme for televising Parliament. We asked for a test, a modest pilot scheme,—a properly controlled and properly researched scheme. Once we had that, we had permanence. There was no going back after that approved project and research. We are the volunteers who live by the performances that we give. We are actors, prima donnas, ballerinas and public performers so we took the media to our heart. We thrived on it and so the scheme has become permanent. What was once a pilot scheme and a research project—a properly controlled experiment—has become permanent.
My objection to pilot schemes, approved projects and research is that they are the thin end of the wedge. They are the most slippery of slopes. If the experiment failed, it would be the most costly waste of money for which we, the shareholders and taxpayers, would have to pay.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
It is interesting that some of those arguments were used in this House to keep people out of the Strangers' Gallery when people were sent to prison for publishing reports. Such arguments are a diversion from the points made by our hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock) in his powerful advocacy. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General agrees. The question is whether the Bill would help justice. Knowledge of what happens in our courts is outside the experience of two thirds of the population. It is not a question whether it costs a bit of money or whether, if people get used to it, it 560 will continue, but whether it will help people to understand what justice is and whether that information will help justice in the round.
§ Mr. Lawrence
My hon. Friend is too impatient. I shall address that point. The issue to which he referred in his question is not whether the experiment would be of educational interest to the public, but whether it would lead to an improved system. They are the two important central items in the argument.
I do not wish to rubbish the arguments used by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. I believe that my counter arguments add up to a pretty strong condemnation of the Bill. But the Bill gives rise to far more worrying matters, all of which would have to be dealt with by my hon. Friend, by the Bar Council and by those who support the Bill. None of those worries has yet been answered satisfactorily. They may be dealt with during the debate, but none is likely to receive a satisfactory answer.
How would my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston guarantee that our courts of law were not turned into media circuses? Television is for the entertainment of the masses. That is its principal purpose and its raison detre. Education is the price that television companies pay for entertainment. No television channel could afford to run on education alone, so how would my hon. Friend guarantee that the court would not be turned into a place of entertainment? How would he ensure that the participants would not be merely players, with their heartbreaks, their peccadillos, their hatreds, their jealousies, their meannesses, their dishonesty, their violence and their insensitivities exposed for the ghoulish and lascivious to see? The cinema-goer goes to the cinema to see those elements portrayed and the theatre-goer goes to the theatre to be excited by the performance and the show of those elements, which are part of society and of the way human beings behave. The courts would become another cinema, another theatre, another place where the weaknesses and frailties of humanity are exposed for all to see. Is our legal system to be so trivialised and degraded by television?
Even if I am wrong, or if it is thought that that could never happen or that it would not matter if it did, I draw attention to the harm that could be done to the judicial process by the television camera. Let us consider the effect on witnesses. It is difficult enough to persuade witnesses to come to the criminal courts to give evidence, for all sorts of reasons; they do not like being identified or they do not like being known as someone who has given evidence against someone else as they have to continue to live in their own community. They are reluctant to give evidence. One of the reasons why guilty men go free is because of inadequate evidence when witnesses will not come forward.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
And perhaps because of the hon. and learned Gentleman's help in representing them.
§ Mr. Lawrence
That is another reason, but all those whom I have defended who have gone free have been innocent and so the court has decided.
Witnesses who come forward are often unable, through fear, to take the oath properly. Will that fear be lessened if they know that television cameras are on them? What will happen with the witness who does not want his private 561 life, his idiocies, his idiosyncracies or his dishonesties exposed not for 50 people in a court to see or for 50,000 people to read about in a newspaper, but for 10 million people to see on television? Will such people want to come to give evidence? If they give evidence, will they have to fear that when they go back to Acacia avenue in their suburban part of the great city, all their neighbours will be at their windows, pointing and waving, and saying, "There is the liar" or "There is the grass" or "There is the cheat" or "There is the dishonest person" or "There is the two-timer" or "There is the person who could not give a straight answer to a straight question."? Yes, the show-offs would love such an experience. The witnesses who go to perform in a court of law would welcome the cameras. But what is the use to justice of such witnesses?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend's present argument. However, one point troubles me and it has been raised by our hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock). In America, it has been suggested by various questionnaires and polls that witnesses may not have been put off by this procedure. I am wary of those questionnaires and polls. Would my hon. and learned Friend comment on that?
§ Mr. Lawrence
I shall come to that a little later. I do not think that comparisons with other countries can be made easily, especially not with the United States. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston referred to the Florida experiment and he said that one conclusion was that television had little effect on the dignity of the proceedings. How much dignity is there in the proceedings of an American court of criminal law? Anyone who goes to America and watches how criminal justice is dispensed in many criminal courts there would not wish to see that here. Comparisons are not easy. Many of the ideas have not been tested. The Florida experiment and somebody else's experiment have produced many conclusions. We cannot confirm such conclusions because we have not carried out such an experiment. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston called for such an experiment, but, because we have not carried it out, we cannot compare and criticise with the care that may be required. We cannot assume that the American experience is evidence on which we should base changes in our society. I have merely touched on the effect on witnesses as I do not want to take up the time of the House unnecessarily.
Let us consider the effect of television on jurors. They would have television lights and cameras on them all day, every day. When we started the experiment here, we were told that it would have no effect on the lighting because modern cameras were so good that they would not require brighter lights. Hon. Members should look at it. I am not complaining, because one tends to get used to it. However, there is no doubt that cameras and lights—and I have seen them in American courts—are obtrusive and they would be focused on the jury all day every day. It is no use saying that juries would not notice that intrusion into the courts.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that most people who go into court for the first time are wholly unprepared for the surroundings with which they are presented? The lights are a trivial matter for the jurors, who may be going into a 562 court of law for the first time, or for the witnesses. There are many more important issues than the cameras or the lights for anyone going into a modern court of law.
§ Mr. Lawrence
But why make it worse? Why increase the number of distractions? Why increase the number of obstacles to the pure concentration on the facts of the case on which the jury has to come to a verdict?
Jury men may be frightened of being identified and, in serious cases, of being followed, of being attacked, of being threatened or of their families being threatened. It is precisely because of threats and fear that we do not have juries in the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston would say that we should not have television cameras in courts in Northern Ireland and that such courts would be excluded from a research project or from a narrow test. However, the line has to be drawn at some stage. Jury men are sometimes frightened when they have no reason to be, simply because it is a criminal trial and not because it is a case involving violence or because a substantial sum is involved. It might not be a case in which jurors were justified in fearing what might happen to them. If jurors fear what may happen to them, a disservice is done to jury trials.
We say to jurors—and this is an important part of our criminal system—"When you go home tonight, be sure not to discuss this case with anybody because if you discuss it with somebody who has not heard the witnesses and seen the evidence, he may influence your mind and your thinking. It will be unfair and unjust because he has not heard the whole case." Juries nod in agreement because they see the sense of that. When they go home, they do not discuss the case with their families and their friends. However, if we televise a case and if we put it on the news at 9 pm or 10 pm while the family and friends are gathered around and saying, "My God, was that your case? Look at that liar. Look at that man's face. Could you honestly believe a word that man said? Well, I know what I think about it", it will become almost impossible to be able to send juries home at night. The risks of such discussions taking place would be great. If we had to send jurors to hotels every day that they were involved in a criminal case—which could go on for days, for weeks or for months—it would interfere with our jury system. The alternative is to expose the system to the ill effects of people outside being encouraged to influence the decision to which the jury will have to come, although those outsiders have not seen the evidence. Surely the effect of television on the jury is the strongest argument against televising our criminal trials.
§ Mr. Fraser
What is the difference in principle between the jury in a case that is well publicised in the popular press, such as the Ripper libel case or the Jeffrey Archer libel case, and a jury in a case that may have some television coverage? I can see that there may be difficulties, but what is the difference in principle?
§ Mr. Lawrence
There may be no difference in principle, but there is an enormous difference in practice. I suggest that a television camera on the face of a witness may form several seconds or even minutes of television time later in the evening. People around can say, not from having seen a "mug shot" or from having heard a report, but from 563 seeing the man or woman giving evidence, "There's a liar," or "There's an honest person." The practical effect is far more considerable.
Television cameras will have an effect on juries and on witnesses, which answers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) about what harm television would do to a criminal trial. What about the effect upon lawyers?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
My hon. and learned Friend is advancing arguments in the way that advocates usually do. He has described what he thinks may be a risk and he has said that there will be effects upon jurors. However he has not demonstrated that there is an effect. One of the arguments for a trial period is to judge whether there is. For example in the Archer and the Ripper libel cases there was massive television coverage from outside the court, giving an interpretation of what was happening. We should be slightly more generous about the skills of the listening and reading public, as they can interpret for themselves what reasonably paid reporters would otherwise interpret for them.
§ Mr. Lawrence
As regards my hon. Friend's latter remark, when the House was to be televised it was argued that it would be better if people could see what was being discussed in the Chamber, live, as there would be no need for all the awful studio interviews afterwards, when people advanced arguments but no one had seen what took place in the House. What has happened? Snapshots of debates in this place appear, followed by hour after hour of studio interviews. Therefore, we will not avoid a reporter standing outside the central criminal court with a television crew, or discussions of the case afterwards with solicitors, barristers, witnesses or defendants merely because there is television in the court. Obviously I am not arguing my case very persuasively and so I shall repeat it again—there will be an adverse effect, as the proceedings will be filmed and people will be able to form judgments about the behaviour of a defendant, a witness giving evidence or of an advocate. Witnessing their behaviour affects the viewers' thinking. I cannot pull rank upon my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, but I have been practising in the courts for 29 years and I know how important appearance and judgments based upon a person's behaviour may be. They have an effect upon counsel, and I am sure they have an effect upon juries.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
I must advise my hon. and learned Friend that two minutes ago I received a message to telephone BBC Radio Humberside to talk about my speech during the debate on the Bill today. I suggested to Radio Humberside that since the House is broadcast on radio it would be able to carry the exact words that I uttered in my speech if it waited. However it was intimated to me that that was not quite what was wanted. The radio station wanted an interview about what I intended to say. As a result of broadcasting the proceedings of the House people do not merely get the live debate. Radio Humberside will not plug in at 11.15 am or 11.30 am, or whatever time you call me, Mr. Speaker, and interrupt its programme to broadcast my speech live. Will not that also be a danger with witnesses, lawyers and all the other assistants in a courtroom drama? The media 564 authorities may approach them in the morning for a line on what they intend to say. Consider the problems that that poses for contempt of court.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am not at all surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is considered to be a media idol in Humberside, or anywhere else, and that he is in constant demand. What frightens me is that my hon. Friend might turn his talents to being an advocate if we televise the courts and the media would have an even greater chance to publicise his great abilities. That brings me to the point that I was about to make—the effect of televising the courts would be to make lawyers media heroes. The defendant might well decide upon a media hero to defend him—a famous man, such as Michael Brown perhaps. The defendant might say, "I don't want Ivan Lawrence because he's not a media hero. I want Michael Brown to defend me." Michael Brown may be much better than Ivan Lawrence but he may not be. He may be chosen merely because he is a media hero. The effects of television upon advocates' performances in the United States of America can be seen. The US advocate—perhaps this was true before television but it is even more true now—has a flashy suit, a flashy smile, has probably been to an orthodontist to have his teeth straightened and has great charm——
§ Mr. Lawrence
I shall come to them in a moment. The US advocate has a flashy presence and a flashy argument and that might not be good for justice.
Yes, stiff collars are important. The reason why barristers dress up in silly clothes with wigs, stiff collars, bands and black gowns is so that they all look more alike. Instead of concentrating upon the personality of the advocate one tends to concentrate upon the personality of the defendant—the victim and not the messenger. If one does away with wigs and collars, people will identify the advocate more easily and he will become more of a media idol. Our justice would not be as centred upon the accused as it is in the British courts at present.
§ Mr. Evennett
My hon. and learned Friend's arguments are powerful and interesting. How does he react to the present reporting on the BBC news at 9 o'clock or the ITV news at 10 o'clock, when people describe the very things that he denigrates television for showing, because he says that it highlights them, such as people's style of dress and so forth? Also how does he view artists' impressions, which take away people's right to judge for themselves what is going on in the courtroom. Instead they are fed the views of reporters on the news.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am dealing with the effects of television upon participants in a trial and not its effects upon the public. The public may see a sketch of counsel in court but that does not affect the jury man. However the jury would be affected if the public were to see moving pictures of the way in which witnesses behave, because friends and relatives would then gather round and tell them their views. There is a difference.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, the matinee idol, who I notice is no longer in the Chamber—perhaps he has gone off to perform yet again——
§ Mr. Lawrence
Yes, he has gone to star in some other medium. He might make it more difficult for someone like me to get a look in, in the courts of law where I have to practice. I see that he is over at the other end of the Chamber, and that makes my point. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is doubtless sitting there because of his knowledge of how television operates in this place. He realises that one particular camera over there, angled across the Chamber, captures him at his best, whereas here, beside me, the cameras are at the wrong angle and catch him full frontal. That is precisely what someone who wants to perform well on television will have in mind. The advocate may want to stand here on the other side of the red line—[HON. MEMBERS: "Out of order."]—rather than here on this side, and that would be out of order. I am talking about that sort of distraction. Advocates, juries and witnesses must consider the effects of television upon the defendant.
The defendant may think that the world is looking at him and if the cameras are there, it will be because it is an interesting trial and much of the world may well be looking at him. He will be stigmatised as never before because millions of people will see him and be able to identify him. Every television viewer and jury man arguing for or against his case will have the defendant's face in his mind and the arguments will continue long after the case is over.
In our criminal courts 50 per cent. of those who plead not guilty are acquitted. They are found to be innocent according to our system. They should be expunged from the record. Can we imagine the stigma caused by a false accusation, which was found to be false, when the face of the innocent man who was wrongly accused was seared into the memory of millions of people? People would continue after the case to dispute whether the acquittal was justified.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston referred to John Bodkin Adams. How many people would have ignored Adams in the street five, 10, 20 or 30 years after his case if the case had been televised? People in Eastbourne would not have done that, although people in Crawley might have. People in Sussex and elsewhere in Britain would have recognised him. The courts found Adams innocent, but if the proceedings had been televised, his life would have been destroyed. Everyone who had seen the televised proceedings would have pointed a finger at him. People would have said that he was wrongly acquitted because of the excellence of his counsel or because the prosecution evidence was not good enough or because a prosecution witness lied. They would think that he was guilty and had murdered many people. What kind of justice is there in a society in which that can happen? That will happen if there are cameras in our criminal courts.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that our late and greatly lamented friend Ian Gow, the former hon. Member for Eastbourne, was regularly mistaken for Dr. Bodkin Adams even though that trial was not televised? Is he also aware that although Dr. Adams used to send our late friend £5 at every general election for the Tory party fighting fund, which used to cause our late friend great embarrassment?
§ Mr. Lawrence
I did not know John Bodkin Adams, but I did know our great and revered friend. Dr. John Bodkin Adams would have had to have been a very great man to match up to the calibre of Ian Gow.
If a defendant in a criminal trial is subjected to public attention in the way that I have described, would that be justice? Would it give justice a chance? Should it be weighed equally in the scales with the benefit of improving the interest and understanding of our legal system?
The defendant does not exist for the legal system—the legal system exists for the defendant and to ensure that there is a fair trial. Television would not necessarily make trials fair or honour reputations after a trial. The Bill would allow a pilot scheme and research, but that pilot scheme and research would reveal that it would be well nigh impossible for rules of court or any other rules to keep adequate control over the way in which the televised material is broadcast.
A momentary look of disbelief on a judge's face might be broadcast later on the "Nine O'clock News" or "News at 10". No one could prevent that. From day to day there are inadvertent outbursts of inadmissible evidence in our criminal courts. The judge must decide whether the trial should continue or to stop it and so waste the court's time and the hundreds of thousands of pounds that the case has cost. The judge can decide that there was simply a moment's inadvertence which during the course of the trial will be forgotten. However, if that moment is enshrined on television and the point is seared into the minds of the jury men who may watch the broadcast later that evening—and if the moment is recorded on video and is seen on many occasions—how can proper control be exercised over such inadvertence? What expense, catastrophes and calamities might occur if trials are stopped and restarted, involving the agonies for witnesses and defendants simply because of inadvertent televising over which no one has control?
Any control would be imperfect and expensive—[Interruption.] I noticed that the Chamber is filling up although I suspect that that is happening not through interest in this Bill or support for it, but for other reasons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said that rules could be made to ensure that there is no visual coverage of the jury, of witnesses, the accused, documents, advocates' benches or of contacts between lawyers and clients. If those existed, no one would want to watch a programme about that case and the television companies would have wasted their money. The television companies want those visual contacts to be displayed on television screens and that is why there is pressure for the Bill to introduce, even by the thin end of the wedge or the beginning of the slippery slope, television intrusion into court proceedings.
§ Mr. Fraser
If there are television cameras in courts might people conclude that some advocates are too long-winded?
§ Mr. Lawrence
That was a very unkind cut. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have a long time to deploy his arguments. The long windedness of counsel is unlikely to be covered by television because that would make the programme too boring. However, we are debating a subject about which many points must be made. If the hon. Gentleman does not want me to make those points, my speech will be shorter. However, those points must be made and considered and if that takes a little time, I am 567 sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. If I appear to stray outside the scope of the Bill, no doubt Mr. Speaker will stop me.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend's points will increase support for the Bill. If we argue that television may influence justice, is that an argument for excluding barristers who occasionally make mistakes which can affect the results of a court case? We must decide whether television has a worse impact than gossip, newspaper reporting or other forms of discussion. That is the crucial test and we will not know until we try it.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I have already dealt with the argument about trying it. That is the thin end of the wedge as trying it always leads in the end—as it has in this place—to permanence. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham suggests that it would be better if the whole trial were televised so that everyone could see the trial from beginning to end. However, that is not in prospect. What is in prospect is that just the sexy parts of the trial would be encapsulated in the media and used repeatedly in evening television broadcasts. That will not satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, because justice is no more likely to be done with such excerpts than it is likely to be done with a full television performance or with snapshot excerpts, as happens at the moment.
The time is approaching 11 o'clock, and I am about to refer to another point. I do not know whether you would consider that, if I continue for half a minute longer without referring to that subject, if would be an appropriate stage for you to take over, Mr. Speaker. However, I am flattered by the attention. That is another example of proof positive——
§ It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 ( Friday sittings).