§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.11.37 am
§ Mr. Lawrence
With these weighty, serious and momentous matters of the Gulf weighing with us, it may sound irrelevant to continue the debate on which we are engaged, but the show must go on and so must my speech, although I hope for not much longer.
I was dealing with the point about the exercise of tight control over the experiments. Great reliance cannot be put on judges spending time controlling television in their courts. Judges must make sure that justice is done in the case before them. If it is a serious criminal case which is attracting public attention, that is all the more reason why the judge should concentrate all his attention on the process of the court and the debate whether the accused is guilty or innocent. He is likely to say, "It is not my job to exercise control over television companies. My job is to conduct the trial, which is not a public entertainment. The most sensible path that I can follow is to have no truck with it. I exclude television." Where would the television company be in that situation?
Let us suppose that the judge allowed television in and there came a point in the trial when he found it necessary to exclude television. Would trials be held up while television companies made representations, in open court and perhaps with counsel, on the reasons why they should not be excluded? When we last discussed anything like this Bill the same question arose. In debating the Contempt of Court Act 1981, as it now is, we discussed the way in which, under section 4, the judge can exclude the press at an appropriate moment.
That causes an enormous amount of ill feeling among media representatives, who feel that they have a right to be there and that the public should know what is going on behind closed doors. Representations are made, publicly and privately, and it is all a waste of time. The amount of time wasted would be even greater if the television companies were for ever pressing not to be excluded from a court of law because the judge was exercising control.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmore Port and Neston argues, on clause 2 and research into the jury system, that the system is so important a part of our legal process that we should examine it with care to see whether it is efficient, can be improved and whether we can present our arguments better. He says that everyone should be able to become acquainted with the way in which our system works, that people should be educated in the subject, that such closeness will make the public heart grow fonder and increase public confidence in the jury system and that opening up juries to the scrutiny of the public will make juries more accountable to the community.
Those are desirable aims, but there are two main flaws in the argument. First, jury research would not necessarily achieve those ends and, secondly, more harm than good might be done to the system. Consider, first, public confidence. Juries are not necessarily rational bodies. The law says, for example, "You must convict if you are satisfied that the accused committed the crime." But a jury may say, "Why should we convict this man? We think that he has suffered enough. We do not agree with this law" or, 579 "We do not think that his breach of the law in the circumstances is important enough for him to run the risk of prison."
I am not sure that it is desirable for the jury to be made into a more rational and more efficient machine, because, at the end of the day, the jury protects the individual accused against the oppression of the system. However benign, tolerant and modern the system may be, at the end of the day what cushions the system and its machinery from the impact on the individual accused is the jury. Although it is irrational, we would gain nothing by inquiring into its irrationality.
Every case is different, every crime is committed in different circumstances, at different times, at different places, with different effects and with different defendants manifesting different characteristics. I am not sure that it would be sensible to generalise research in an area which is so manifestly disparate and diverse.
What harm can be done by such research? I do not want the confidentiality of the jury room broken into. Harm would be done. I do not want juries to be questioned by journalists and others about their decisions. Although that is not suggested, it would not be long before it happened, and once the principle of not questioning jury men was broken down, such questioning would be done by professors, lecturers at university and others. I do not want jurors to refuse to do jury service because they are terrified of being questioned about their decisions or because they fear having to give reasons for their decisions.
I do not want the pressure on the jury man to be greater because of his fear that he might be questioned. Sitting there in the jury box, he should not have to think, "I may be asked afterwards by a professor, a journalist, a lecturer or some other intelligent person why I made my decision, and I may not be sure why I made it. I am just a jury man and it is my feeling. I have given my response and I believe that my decision is right, having arrived at it in that way."
I do not see how control over research or the way in which a researcher would operate can be easy. I do not believe that public confidence in the jury system would grow with research, and that is the rub. Those who do not want the jury system to endure want this research. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston says, "Let us lift the veil on the jury system," he really means something else.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Many of his supporters actually mean, "Let us reveal to the public sight how inadequate, inefficient, wrong and irrational is our jury system. We shall be so shocked by what we find that the system will collapse."
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Does my hon. and learned Friend know the position of the Bar in this matter? Does the Bar want to continue its support of jury trials, even if research under the Bill shows that a jury trial is a silly way to decide things, or does it want to continue jury trials only for a short time, until research shows the position one way or another? Alternatively, does he believe that the Bar is signalling to the House that it would like to see the end of jury trials?
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am not the Bar, even though I am the chairman of the all-party joint parliamentary committee of barristers. I believe that there is a division of opinion at the Bar on this issue. Those who advocate and have been supporting, even encouraging, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to pilot the Bill—I hope that Mr. Caplan will not object to my saying this—have said clearly that they want the jury system to remain. I do not believe that the system would necessarily remain if we conducted research into the intricate ways in which the jury system works and that would be a deplorable development for the British system of justice.
Many people do not want the jury system to remain. I particularly recall the attempts made in the Roskill report to get rid of the system for long fraud trials. If the system went, judges would judge trials. Many people say, "If we had real judges with real experience, real common sense and real knowledge and application of the law trying criminal trials, fewer of the guilty would get off."
The danger is that the judges are not always right. After many years of service in our courts, I would rather have a jury than judges deciding criminal trials. The jury is the protector of the person who is falsely accused. The jury protects the civil liberties and freedoms of the individual in a way that even our judges cannot do. I do not want anything to happen that threatens the existence of the jury trial. I say frankly and openly that those who would pursue research of the jury system would be precisely, perhaps unintentionally, undermining the jury system.
We are told that the United States and other countries use television and research, and have welcomed both. I am not sure that it is possible to make comparisons in this regard, but it is worth pointing out that some of those countries possess entirely different legal systems and rules. It is possible that, in the case of an inquisitorial system that is bent on discovering the whole truth, rather than an accusatorial system such as ours, there is less objection to the exerting of outside influence on criminal trials. That does not apply to our accusatorial system.
In our criminal courts, an allegation must be proved, or the prosecution fails. Our system discovers the truth, but it does not necessarily discover all of it. Under it, rules of evidence protect the accused in a way in which more open systems do not. Perhaps it is time to change our system. I could go on for hours about the pros and cons; what I know is that we should not be impelled to change it by introducing either television or intrusive research. The system cannot be changed overnight: a decade of work would be needed. The effects of television and research might be very different in an accusatorial system, given the influence that it might have on the participants in a trial, especially the jury. The comparison can best be made with the United States. I do not want to offend any of my hundreds of American friends, many of whom are attorneys, but I would not wish to exchange our system for theirs.
Of course, my observations do not apply to many civil cases. America has jury trials in civil cases; we do not. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston may say that I have made quite a good case for the exclusion of television and research from criminal trials, but that television could prove useful and educational in the civil or appeal courts. I agree: if none of my criticisms and objections apply, there is certainly no reason to oppose such a move. Let us be realistic, however. How much public appeal would there be in televising legal 581 arguments in the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords about, for instance, the interpretation of taxation subclauses in financial legislation? How enraptured would the public be by the sight of the Lord Chief Justice considering to what extent the word "wilfully" implies malice?
Those are not the kind of trials to which the television companies would want to commit massive financial investment. What they want are precisely the kind of trials that my hon. Friend wishes to exclude.
§ Dr. Woodcock
These seem strange arguments, coming from a man who makes his living by the law. My hon. and learned Friend is saying, essentially, that evidence ought to be excluded; he is not allowing for the same trial of evidence that he seeks for the clients whom he represents in the courtroom.
In regard to jury research, is my hon. and learned Friend saying that he believes that our jury system is so perfect that it is incapable of improvement, or is he saying that, although it may be capable of improvement, he does not wish to know its shortcomings, because he would not want to improve it even if he did know them?
§ Mr. Lawrence
I think that it would be dangerous to try to improve the jury system. To examine the working of the system, and to try to make it more efficient and rational, is actually to destroy the essence of that system, which is not necessarily either efficient or rational.
I know that my hon. Friend is a magistrate and has probably presided over criminal trials for many years, but criminal trials at that level are different from those that involve juries. I am not taken in by juries—I do not consider the jury system perfect—but I feel that if we tamper with it too much, there will be pressure for its removal. That would be the most retrograde step that we could possibly take if we want to ensure that justice is done in our criminal trials.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I must finish my speech: I do not want to stop others from speaking.
Who wants the Bill? Where is the pressure for it? Until it was presented. and until I read the arguments of the Bar Council, I observed no agitation in favour of television—or even research into the working of juries, except on the part of a handful of academics. I may be accused of being an old reactionary backwoodsman for resisting this great advance, although I do not see myself as such, but I am astonished that my own trade union, the Bar Council, should push for it.
This old institution of our courts and legal system, and protector of the interests of the Bar, seems suddenly to want to be modern. It is mutton dressed as lamb: it wants to change its image, like a trendy vicar. I am not sure that much is achieved by trendy vicars, women who dress up as lamb when they are really mutton and others who try too hard to be modern when they are part of an established tradition—pillars of the community, perhaps rather old-fashioned—except incredulity among many of their supporters, such as myself.
Perhaps I am letting my trade union down; perhaps I ought to be for the Bill. It would undoubtedly be very good for the Bar: there would be a great deal of publicity, and 582 many people would make themselves famous overnight. It would be excellent for business—which means that much more money might go into the pockets of the barristers.
Yes: let us have the Bill. It will be good for the lawyers. That ought to kill it.
§ Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)
First, let me declare an interest, as a solicitor and assistant recorder.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock) on his excellent introduction of the Bill. He spoke capably and persuasively. I shall not speak for too long, because I know that others wish to speak as well.
It is an impressive experience to look around the Chamber on a Friday and see so many hon. Members who are keeping an open mind and who are here to listen to the arguments. It is to the many who are still uncertain about which view to take that I address my speech and I hope very much that they will agree that this modest measure should be given its Second Reading today and should proceed further.
The Bill is modest. It aims to establish a pilot project on important issues that must be discussed. If it is given a Second Reading, it will not mean that television will be in the courts. We want to proceed gently and gingerly with a pilot project. If, when the evidence is available—this point was made tellingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston—we decide that it is right to proceed no further, we are at liberty to take that decision. It is not an easy subject and differing views are held on it. Members of the Bar Council and of the Bar are not unanimous.
Initially, I was hostile to televising the House, because I thought that it would trivialise and lower the quality of everything we do and that right-thinking people outside would not thank us for agreeing to it. I believed that the great orators among us would become stage stars, while the duller ones such as myself would sink into further obscurity and that it would be biased against the ordinary dull chap.
I was wrong to vote against televising the House, but it has taken me some months to reach that conclusion. I held the natural fears that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) expressed, but they were unfounded. Television has enhanced our reputation in the outside world and has helped to educate people about how Parliament works. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said, 70 per cent. of British people get most of their information from the television.
§ Mr. Summerson
My hon. Friend said that televising the House had educated the public. Does he think that, because they see what goes on in the Chamber, they know more about the arcane and extraordinary procedures by which this place works?
§ Mr. Malins
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I do not know more whether the public know much more about the procedures of this place than my hon. Friend or I. It is helpful and good in a democracy for people to form a view on national issues such as the Gulf crisis. Without television, they might not form a view.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton argued that televising the courts is unnecessary because 583 they are open to the public. Televising the House has enabled millions of people to see Parliament at work—an opportunity which they would not have but for television. They cannot afford Hansard or to travel to Westminster every day. Televising the House has enabled housebound, poor and disabled people to see the House at work.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell
I agree with much of my hon. Friend's speech, but will he address the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about the intrinsic difference between the televising of this place, where we perform as volunteers, and the courts, where people do not so perform and where 50 per cent. of those who plead guilty are declared by the courts to be entirely innocent?
§ Mr. Malins
I accept that there is a difference between the courts and the House, but, equally, there are similarities, because many of the fears expressed about a pilot project in the courts were strongly expressed about televising the House. Many of the arguments that overcame the fears expressed about televising this place will apply to some of the fears that my hon. Friend mentioned.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton asked how we could guarantee that courts would not become a media circus. He said that television was a form of entertainment and that courts would become a media circus. He is saying, in so many words, that the courts would be trivialised, but there is a powerful argument against that. Television does not change into a circus something that is not already a circus. It does not change the House, wonderful religious services or a sombre, serious issue into a circus. If something already is a circus, television shows it as such.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton spoke of witnesses not wanting their private lives to be exposed to millions. That is a strong point. However, in major trials, the names of witnesses and much of their evidence is revealed to the public by the press or by television reporters. They are not anonymous.
§ Mr. Lawrence
It is a question of degree. Although 1.2 million people may buy the Daily Telegraph, of which a small proportion read the report of a trial, millions of people will see a witness on television.
§ Mr. Malins
It is a question of degree, but the more famous the trial, the more widely covered is the witness's name and evidence.
§ Mr. Evennett
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is quite wrong. He mentioned a newspaper that responsibly reports major trials, but he did not allude to the millions who watch the news on television or read it in other daily newspapers which have a larger circulation and which trivialise those major court cases. Does he agree that witnesses in such trials are not anonymous, because they appear on "News at Ten" or in the mass media?
§ Mr. Malins
My hon. Friend makes a telling point, and I agree with him wholeheartedly—as he would expect me to.
We know the names of witnesses in famous trials. A girl called Monica was involved in the Jeffrey Archer trial. Her 584 name is imprinted on my mind because I read it, and her evidence, daily for weeks. Important cases already attract publicity, but trivial cases would not be televised.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I do not want to speak for my hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), but his argument was not about the extra number of people who watch television, but about the fact that a picture is worth a thousand words. The vividness of the visual image is imprinted on one's mind far more deeply than what one reads and forgets so much more quickly.
§ Mr. Malins
This is a difficult area and I respect the fact that there are opposing views on it. Under our present system, however, witnesses and defendants are pictured in the low-quality tabloids. Those papers provide great details of all sorts of people involved in court cases. They provide their names, the evidence they gave and their pictures, and those facts are brought home to millions of people who take those tabloids. I sincerely believe that the worries that my hon. Friends have expressed about more publicity for witnesses and defendants should not stop them allowing the Bill to proceed today.
I have read the report of the working party of the public affairs committee of the General Council of the Bar. I congratulate Jonathan Caplan and my old friends Michael Kalisher and Anthony Speaight on a good report, which has meant that we are able to discuss the matter today.
Let me outline why I believe the Bill should be passed. I do not believe that the legal system and lawyers suffer from too much popularity in certain sectors of our society in 1991. Some people have a lack of confidence in the legal system, but we have a good one, so why keep it private? We have nothing to hide and we should let some of that system be seen by the public. Televising might enhance the public's confidence in, and respect for, the law.
Pilot projects for televising the courts would help to reinforce our long tradition of open justice. We always criticise secret trials and ask why the public cannot be told what is going on. If the Bill is passed, more publicity will be given to our legal system and the public's ability to know what is going on will be greatly increased.
The Bill will enable many people to have a better understanding of how our court system works and some of the burdens borne by leading counsel such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton. Imagine the prospect of a trial at the Old Bailey with my hon. and learned Friend on his feet eloquently addressing the jury, only to hear the Division bell going at 3.45. Imagine him rushing back to the House—to be seen on television once again.
I do not believe that televising the courts would trivialise them. Such coverage would inform and educate. I do not believe that it would lead to frightened witnesses and related problems. I believe that that coverage would lead to a greater interest in our legal system. A famous foreign court showed a judgment relating to Sunday trading on television—an issue of great national interest—and it was seen by many.
Many of our important civil cases could be televised in part with some advantage. It is vital that there are safeguards to ensure that the jury are not identified, but such issues could be debated later. Today we are considering the main principles behind the Bill.
I understand what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton said about jury research, but anything 585 we can do to help jurors in their task should be considered. We could ask jurors the simple question: "Is there any way in which you could be helped further?" Perhaps jurors would suggest that there were, so we should give further consideration to such research.
I support the Bill and I hope that it is passed so that we can continue discussions on this important matter of national significance.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock) on his good fortune in winning a high place in the ballot for private Members' Bills, and on his choice of Bill. Today gives us a valuable opportunity to debate in some considerable detail two significant proposals for change in relation to the operation of our judicial system, in particular our criminal justice system.
It is already clear from the debate so far that this subject gives rise to lively and wide-ranging considerations. It is clear that the House has in mind the importance of the issues raised by the Bill. There are arguments both ways and I see my function and duty to the House being to draw to its attention some of the potential advantages of the proposals that have been so eloquently advanced by my hon. Friend, as well as the difficult aspects that must properly be taken into account before we arrive at any decision on the principle of the Bill.
This is not a debate in which the House is likely to be divided on party political lines, but I know that hon. Members will want to reflect carefully how to proceed. My hon. Friend is supported by sponsors on both sides of the House. It is a matter of regret for the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) that he does not have the benefit of some eloquent sponsors on the Opposition Benches who could take part in the debate. However, they are extremely well represented by the hon. Gentleman and, in so far as the Labour party takes any particular view on this matter, we look forward with great interest to hear what the hon. Gentleman says, should he catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Opinions on this matter vary considerably and the Government's stance is to listen extremely carefully with an open mind to the views expressed by hon. Members.
The first part of the Bill deals with televising court proceedings. It seeks to implement the findings of a working party of the public affairs committee of the General Council of the Bar, on which I had the honour to sit for some years, which reported in May 1989. That report is often referred to as the Caplan report, after Jonathan Caplan who chaired the committee.
The present law is to be found in section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, which, in essence, was enacted to prohibit still photography. It is interesting to contemplate that it was in 1912 that a still photograph appeared of a small figure, the murderer, Frederick Seddon, being sentenced to death by Mr. Justice Bucknill. That photograph showed the spread of the court—Mr. Justice Bucknill, with his black cap, and his chaplain at his side. That photograph caused a frisson of horror at the time and it was specifically referred to 13 years later in 1925. when the prohibition of photography in court was passed into law.
It seems strange to us today that feelings ran so high just about a photograph, but they did, and that aspect of 586 the law remains unchanged. Today's debate has already demonstrated that, although the medium that causes anxiety has changed, the power of the visual image and the power of sound recording in modern form are still recognised as so great as to make us cautious about their use.
It is difficult today to imagine a world without television, which is now such an important part of our lives, but in 1925 broadcasting even in sound form—"This is London 2LO"—had not even begun. It began in 1926, while television was still some 12 years away.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston that it is significant that this is the first time that the question of television in our courts has been debated. It would not be right to go further on this matter without recording the gratitude of the House for the work done by the working party of the Bar whose analysis of the problems and issues and whose proposed solutions provide a lucid and useful basis for our consideration of these issues. I have read the entire report. It is a careful and well-considered report, which justifies close consideration by anyone interested in this subject, and I shall draw upon it in my speech.
In essence, the report recommended the setting up of an advisory committee to review the arrangements for, and legal provisions relating to, coverage of court proceedings by the media—television, radio, newspapers and still photography—and to report to the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary. At this stage, in a sense, the Bill goes a little bit wider even than the report. It removes the statutory restrictions that prevent photography—still, on film or on tape—and removes the statutory limitations on tape recording, provided that those are carried out in accordance with rules of court. That is right. If we are to consider the matter sensibly, we must tackle all those problems. If the House is minded to wish the Bill to make further progress, a number of fairly fundamental changes to its terms are likely to be necessary.
The bar Council has unanimously endorsed the Caplan report's recommendation for an advisory committee and its ability to devise and monitor pilot projects involving research and the actual broadcasting of civil and criminal trials and of appellate proceedings.
In considering the arguments for and against this part of the Bill, I recognise that a proposal to televise the courts—albeit on an experimental basis in the first instance—has several potentially valuable features. It is a fundamental principle of our judicial system, and one of which we are rightly proud, that justice should be open and should be seen to be done. The requirement that court hearings should be in public is departed from only in rare and closely defined circumstances, and only for compelling reasons.
On the basis that courts are public places to which anyone can go and places whose proceedings can be openly and fairly reported in print by newspapers, books, magazines and so on, there is in a sense a prime facie case that balanced and fair television reporting should also be considered. Television broadcasting—which is by far the most powerful and dramatic way of reporting—would, in principle, enable a wide public to see the process of justice as it is administered in the sort of detail and with an immediacy that other forms of news presentation cannot match. It is argued that members of the public would gain from an ability to see the parties and witnesses and to 587 study judges, advocates and jurors at work, thus gaining a better understanding of the workings of our courts and our system of civil and criminal justice.
The Bar's report sets out to examine the experience in some of those jurisdictions where television cameras are permitted in court at present. The report concluded that the experience in most cases was favourable. It observed that none of those states in the United States that have had an experimental programme of televising courts have later gone on to prohibit cameras. However, the House will wish to know that, in fact, there are not many countries in which courts have been televised—my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston made that point fairly—and in those countries where it is permitted, only limited use is made of the facility.
The major experiences is in 45 American states, where television is permitted on either a permanent or an experimental basis. It is noteworthy—the House should bear this in mind—that television is exclusive to the state courts and has not yet been admitted to the federal courts in any way. The United States has a formidable system of federal courts, which are highly respected throughout the world, but the United States has not seen fit to admit television to such courts, despite the experience of the state courts; nor has the Supreme Court been prepared to admit it.
The Bar's report notes that an experimental programme authorised by the Supreme Court of Florida—this is probably the high water mark of the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston—showed thatthe presence of the camera had little effect upon the dignity of the proceedings; the presence of the camera disrupted the trial either not at all or only slightly; participants' awareness of the camera averaged between slightly and moderately; both jurors and witnesses perceived that the presence of the camera made them feel just slightly more responsible for their actions; the ability of jurors to judge the truthfulness of witnesses was perceived to be affected not at all; the distracting effect of the camera was deemed to range from almost not at all for jurors, to slightly for witnesses and attorneys; there was no significant difference in the participants' concern over being harmed as a result of their appearance on television as opposed to their names appearing the print media; and court personnel and attorneys perceived that presence of the camera made the participating attorneys' actions more flamboyant only to a slight extent".On the latter point, I have my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) very much in mind. The report refers to a number of other experimental projects, which produced similarly benign findings.
All that might seem to make a significant case. I am considering it carefully. As I said at the beginning, it is important to put those arguments into perspective and to allude to several arguments that range against the proposal.
In considering that perspective, I should like to say a little more about those countries where this matter has or has not been considered. Looking down the Bar's list of 24 countries, one can see that television plays a part in only 10. I shall refer first to those countries that are generally against it. In Austria, there is no law against it, but there is judicial discouragement and it has not happened. In Cyprus, there is no law against it and no experience of it. In Denmark, it is totally forbidden. Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Portugal, 588 Switzerland and Turkey have no experience of it. In Sweden, it is entirely prohibited, although sound recordings are permitted. In Germany, it is prohibited by the constitution.
In considering the countries that have some experience of televising the courts, with the exception of the United States, it is important to note how cautious they have been. I put Canada at the forefront because, when the Bar debated this matter at last year's Bar conference, it did so together with the Canadian Bar. The Canadian experience was both path-finding and extremely cautious.
In Canada, television has not been allowed beyond the hallway of court buildings. In 1987, just a couple of years ahead of our Bar, a committee of the Canadian Bar recommended a two-year trial period—a similar recommendation came from the Canadian Law Commission—but that was narrowly vetoed by the Canadian Judicial Council, which comprises the chief justices of Canada and of the Canadian provinces. It has not made progress in Canada yet.
In France in 1984, a commission suggested a two-year experiment, but it has not been implemented except in relation to the national historic archives. There is public access to what has been filmed and recorded after 20 years, and it can be publicly broadcast after 50 years. In Israel, television cameras were allowed into two celebrated and unusual trials—the Eichmann and Demanjuk trials. In Italy, there is no law on the matter, but judges are extremely cautious and have allowed television only into the opening and closing stages of one or two important trials.
In the Netherlands, there is little experience. Television has been allowed to film only from behind in the verdicts in some modern trials and, rather more widely, in the unusual Menten trial about the Nazi collaborator. In Norway, there has been some televising of cases of public importance for educational purposes. I said that I would put the matter into perspective. Other countries are thinking about televising, but they are approaching it cautiously and we are right to approach the matter in that spirit.
In that spirit, the House will wish to pay special heed to the views of our judiciary and especially to those of our senior judiciary. Like their counterparts in other member states of the European Community, our senior judiciary have serious reservations about the televising of court proceedings. It will be recognised that they have an unparalleled knowledge of the workings of our legal system and I know that their views will weigh heavily with the House.
Despite the reported American experience, many commentators—judges, lawyers and lay people here—fear that the presence of cameras would add considerably to the pressures faced by participants in a trial. It is an inevitable feature of trials—not only of criminal trials—that many participants—not only the defendant—are brought unwillingly to court in circumstances of great vulnerability or personal distress. There is a great difference between appearing in court, even before a packed public gallery, and appearing before a television camera with the knowledge that, later in the day, one may be exposed to a television audience of millions or perhaps even of tens of millions.
The effects of television cameras may vary. They may cause an inhibited witness to clam up entirely or at least to face considerable additional personal distress. They may 589 allow the uninhibited to play up to the cameras, which would be equally damaging to the proper conduct of the case. Although I recognise that none of the proponents of the Bill suggests that television should be allowed to record the most sensitive proceedings involving, for example, children or victims of sexual assault, it is worth stating in this context that the Government have done a great deal to recognise the vulnerability of certain witnesses by making provision for them, for example, to give evidence without the requirement that they he present in the court. There is a significant feeling that any move to televise courts would undermine the thrust of proposals in relation to other vulnerable witnesses who are still required to give evidence in person in court.
The Crown prosecution service has expressed to me its concern about the effect of televising on witnesses and, consequently, on the interests of justice. The Crown prosecution services prosecutes 1.7 million cases a year. It has responsibility for marshalling and, to some extent, caring for witnesses whom it has to bring before the court. The service fears that witnesses might be deterred from attending court because of the expected publicity and it fears that that may be true for defence witnesses just as much as for prosecution witnesses.
The service fears that witnesses may feel unable to give evidence in a fair and proper manner because of the camera. It fears that witnesses may be tempted to tailor their evidence to make it more acceptable to the viewing public. We do not know whether those fears are right or wrong, but they are real concerns, which must be addressed by any legislation permitting the televising of legal proceedings.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, whose remarks have been helpful to people in favour of the Bill and those against it. Is he right in saying that those fears need to be addressed in legislation? As I understand it, the Bill allows for rules to be written under the legislation and those rules could maintain controls. As my right hon. and learned Friend rightly says, the Crown prosecution service is concerned about the effect that televising would have on witnesses. Indeed, it would be odd if it were not concerned.
An experiment is needed to see whether it is possible to measure the effects. It is possible to allow television by exception into prison and into other places from which it is normally excluded. Whatever the rules and restrictions, the court room is the only place into which it is impossible to take a television camera and in which it is impossible to record for any purpose.
§ The Solicitor-General
That is an important argument, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) may catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and expand upon it. I have pondered the issue. Essentially, my hon. Friend is asking whether we cannot deal with it by rules of court. If it is the will of the House that the Bill makes progress, we shall give it a great deal of careful thought. The rules committee is largely made up of lawyers.
One of the questions that we must ponder, as this is the first time that we have debated the subject, is whether there might be merit in it not merely being left for the rules committee to deal with, if the Bill makes progress. Perhaps the question should be given wider consideration outside the House. We are much indebted to the Bar for the 590 research that it has done, but there is room here, and in the jury aspects of the issue, for research and consideration by people outside the rules committee. If the Bill makes progress, that could happen before we go further down the road.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
My right hon. and learned Friend suggests that this matter could be dealt with by rules of court, but the way that witnesses would react cannot be dealt with by rules drawn up by lawyers. Reactions will differ from witness to witness and it is impossible to predict how a witness who has never thought about this problem will react to the introduction of television.
§ The Solicitor-General
My hon. Friend rightly brings us back to principle. The House and the other place would have to form a clear view about principle, and I agree with him. We have to make up our minds about that and the Government are listening carefully.
I recognise that an essential condition of any televised reporting is that it should be fair and accurate, but that is not necessarily easy to achieve and it is not for lack of good will. Such is the immediacy of the impact of television that there is real danger, especially in jury trials, that it may distort the conduct of cases and the process by which jurors arrive at their decisions. I am conscious that the Bill proposes only an experiment but—to take another analogy—it is a live experiment, which is to be carried out on the trials of real people and we must bear that in mind.
One of the advantages seen by the proponents of the Bill for its introduction is that television in courts would be valuable and educative. A great deal hangs on this claim, because, in essence, if that were not proved to be the case, there would be little advantage in televising courts at all. I have no doubt that it would, in part, serve such a purpose, and that a good deal of coverage would be balanced and informed. I should welcome that because the more that our system of justice can be understood, the more people will respect it and have confidence in it, and that is an essential feature.
However, I must admit to certain anxieties about how matters might develop after the expiry of an experimental period. I am sure that we should see the educational purpose of televising proceedings at its best during the experimental period, but thereafter I am a little less sanguine, although I do not wish in any way to impugn the motives of broadcasters.
Broadcasters would be under considerable pressure to produce vivid, immediate television and it would be easy to cross that fine line between a fair and balanced report—the educative and public involvement aspects—and to drift over into entertainment, if not sensationalism. It is a difficult balance to strike.
Real trials, especially criminal trials, are in no sense a subject for entertainment and no hon. Member suggests that they are. Courts make wonderful theatre and television, but theatre does not deal with the lives of real people. The issues in criminal trials are intensely serious and often involve the need to recount intimate and all too often tragic personal details.
Although there would no doubt be an effort to provide safeguards to prevent the most obvious examples of potential abuse, it is often difficult, from the very nature of the criminal trial, to predict in advance exactly what will 591 happen or to foresee all the circumstances that might push the televising of proceedings into prurience and sensationalism.
As we debate these matters, our proceedings are televised and they may or may not be shown widely. Consequently, many hon. Members will naturally have regard to a number of the arguments that were made for and against the televising of Parliament. In the event, and after an appropriate trial period here and experience in another place, this House in its wisdom decided that its proceedings should be televised and I do not think that many hon. Members have had legitimate cause to regret that decision.
To some extent, that argument operates in favour of the Bill. Nevertheless, we should be cautious about drawing parallels. As politicians, we come to the House voluntarily and engage in our debates on matters of general principle and public importance. By long usage, we have become reasonably practised in public speaking—indeed, the cynics might say that some of us actually seek out exposure to the media. None of that is true in the process of a trial.
Judges and advocates may of course become used to the cameras, but the witnesses, victims and dependants seldom will. While we are permitted by the nature of our duties to deal in matters of high principle, they will often have to speak of and publicly expose intimate details about their private lives. I do not believe that the televising of Parliament provides a precedent and I am confident that hon. Members will recognise that a different set of considerations largely applies.
Whatever view the House may take about the televising of court proceedings in principle, I think it only right to record that if it is the will of the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, the Government would have to ensure—or do their best to ensure; this is why we emphasise the principle—that a number of safeguards were introduced to reduce the risk of damage to the fabric of the administration of justice.
It would be necessary to ensure that the cameras were physically as unobtrusive and non-disruptive as possible. Technological advances have made that a much easier process than might perhaps once have been the case. The example of this place is a good one because the cameras here are not obtrusive. However, we must recognise the physical limitations of many of our court rooms and of the older court rooms in particular. As the Caplan report noted, many English court rooms are smaller than their United States counterparts.
Very often, particularly in the sort of trials that I suspect would suggest themselves as most attractive to broadcasters, space is limited sometimes even for victims and their families. It would be important to ensure that whatever arrangements were necessary to permit television should not seriously diminish access to the general public. Only a certain number of cameras should be permitted and they should be permitted to show only certain types of shots, so that—here Parliament is a comparable example—the proceedings as a whole were balanced and there would be minimal inducement for people in the public gallery or elsewhere to disrupt proceedings for the sake of additional publicity that television might bring to their antics.
592 There are also security matters to be considered concerning the televising of certain witnesses.
§ Dr. Woodcock
My right hon. and learned Friend has made the telling point that some of our courts are very small and that space is, of necessity, limited. He makes that case in relation to the availability of space to accommodate television cameras and equipment. However, the fact that those courts have limited space is the reason for having television in our courts. In many respects, space is so limited that only very few people can attend the court. The Bill would allow people to see into courts if they cannot gain access because of lack of space.
§ The Solicitor-General
Up to a point, my hon. Friend has made a good point. The cameras will allow many people to see a little more of what happens in court. However, we may have to be realistic and admit that the viewer will seldom be treated to a sequential view of what happens in court.
Television time is inevitably limited. There has been discussion of whether we should have a permanent channel fixed on the House. Much of such television would be terribly boring, but it would give a true impression of what went on. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that that could be replicated for court television. One would get snippety highlights of real cases affecting real people. Those matters must be balanced.
Only a certain number of cameras should be permitted. As I have said, the type of shots that they should be allowed should be carefully controlled. I have dealt with security for jurors and witnesses and the importance of not exposing them to increased risk of harassment or other interference.
There are certain courts and tribunals from which we should statutorily exclude television. For example, television should not be allowed to extend into magistrates courts or to most tribunals. We shall have to take careful steps to prevent proceedings involving children, whether criminal or civil proceedings, from being televised. It will be agreed on both sides of the House that any public exposure of the traumas and grief of particularly young and vulnerable victims must be avoided at all costs.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
My right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned some of the Government's concerns, in the event that the Bill is read a Second time, and the safeguards that he would want to introduce. For example, he said that he would not wish cameras to be in magistrates courts. Does not that fact alone show our difficulties with the Bill? There is already enough pressure on innocent people sometimes to plead guilty in a magistrates court because at least there is the certainty of a more minimal fine or prison sentence, whereas they are disinclined to expose themselves to the risk of going to a Crown court.
Does not that prove that even more innocent people will be inclined, on the advice of their legal advisers, to plead guilty in a magistrates court because they would be exposed to the rigours of television cameras if they take a chance and plead not guilty in the Crown court?
§ The Solicitor-General
There is something in my hon. Friend's point. I should not want to carry it too far, because one does not need to plead guilty in a magistrates court in order to avoid going on to the Crown court. One could plead not guilty and have one's case tried out, and not go on to the Crown court. My hon. Friend would have 593 a point if that were to prevent somebody from taking trial by jury, which otherwise they would wish to do. That is a factor to be weighed, but I would not put it much higher than that.
We should also have to ensure that no televising could take place without the express consent of the trial judge. That is one of the suggestions that have been made. The trial judge is responsible for the conduct of proceedings in the court over which he presides, and his own assessment, from a uniquely knowledgeable position, of whether in a particular case the risks of allowing televising would outweigh the possible educational advantages must be decisive. I do riot think that it would be right in any circumstances to permit the televising of proceedings in circumstances in which the trial judge did not consent to it.
There are also other questions relating to consent, some of them touched on by the Caplan report—whether, for example, the consent of the parties should be required. The Caplan report concluded that it should not, but I should like to reflect carefully upon the matter if the Bill were to make further progress. We are talking about experimentation.
I think also that it would be an important safeguard to give the Lord Chancellor a final decision on whether any particular proceedings or class of proceedings should be televised. Only he, as the Minister responsible for the provision of the higher courts, can take an overall view of the effect of television and, again, I am sure that the House would think it right that he should have the final say in those important matters.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Does my right hon. and learned Friend consider it remotely likely that any television company worth its salt in this country would want to go in for something requiring such expensive investment which was dependent on the whim of judges, Lord Chancellors or anyone else?
§ The Solicitor-General
The answer is probably yes, someone might very well want to do it. If not, no progress would be made one way or the other. There would be expense and those involved would argue, with some force, that, having gone to that expense, they should be allowed to show a reasonably wide range of television. That forces us to say that we cannot hedge this around with too many safeguards, because that would be unreal. We must weigh up such matters before deciding on the matter of principle. However, I cannot agree with my hon. and learned Friend that no people will come forward to ask for that.
I do not pretend to have exhausted either the full range of safeguards that would be required or, more importantly, the full range of issues of principle that should be considered before the House decides upon this important proposal, but I hope that I have said enough to indicate how seriously the Government take these proposals and how carefully we have sought to evaluate the potential advantages and disadvantages of this aspect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston rightly emphasised that the proposal was to be only experimental and that there must be strict safeguards, but before we proceed, we must remember that these would be live experiments on the cases of real people. Before we proceed, we must be satisfied that the safeguards have a real chance of of being effective and that we do not have to hedge the privilege about so tightly that any 594 benefits are outweighed by distortion. The Government wish to know the views of the House on that matter and, as I said, approach it with considerable caution.
The second aspect of this interesting Bill relates to jury research, I should like to ask the House to consider a number of interesting questions relating to whether the deliberations of the jury should be laid open to academic, and, thus, public scrutiny.
I have no difficulty in starting from the premise that the institution of jury trial is one of the great protectors of our liberties—I believe that passionately—and a means by which we can ensure public involvement and, therefore, public confidence in the trial of important criminal cases. I go as far as to say that, for serious offences, the right to jury trial must be high on anyone's list of those rights which underlie our system of the administration of justice.
I should like to quote the words of Lord Devlin in his book on this subject. He is a most distinguished judge, whose name, I am proud to say, is still the top name on my own chambers. He wrote:In a democracy law is made by the will of the people and obedience is given to it not primarily out of fear but from goodwill. But just as important as the frame of the law is its application. The jury is the means by which the people play a direct part in the application of the law. It is a contributory part. The inter-relation between judge and jury, slowly and carefully worried out over several hundred years, secures that the verdict will not be demagogic; it will not be the simply uninhibited popular reaction. But it also secures that the law will not be applied in a way that affronts the conscience of the common man. Constitutionally it is an invaluable achievement that popular consent should be at the root not only of the making but also of the application of the law. It is one of the significant causes of our political stability.The right to trial by jury, to trial by our peers, is a very ancient right and is regarded by many, myself included, as one of the foundations of our liberties. It commands great public confidence. It seems to work well. In those circumstances, many who have misgivings about jury research warn strongly against meddling with a successful system. They argue—with force—"If it isn't broken, don't mend it."
This does not mean that we can be complacent about the institutions that serve as the basis of our liberties, and I do not criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston for raising this subject. Their continuing good function and health should be the proper subject for scrutiny and the Government have not been slow to make alterations to the working of the system to ensure that the interests of justice are secured. Changes have been made, for example, to the age eligibility of jurors. That is right because people live longer, remain alert longer and have longer in their lives to play an active part. Changes have been made to the right to peremptory challenge and to the proper reasons why citizens should or should not be disqualified from jury service.
Nor should we expect, in the context of some 50,000 jury trials a year, that the workings of the jury in every individual case will always be perfect. There will be occasional lapses. There is anecdotal criticism of the way in which the jury system works. Some of it, no doubt, is misguided or based on prejudice or partiality of one form or another. Most research will be well placed, but it is an essential part of our system that, where juries convict in circumstances that are unsafe or unsatisfactory, those errors can be rectified by the appellate process.
My hon. Friend and those who promote this Bill do so from the very best of motives. They argue that it is 595 essential that an institution of such importance should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny and that scrutiny can be sound in its method only if it is based on an ability to look at exactly what happens in the jury room. Those arguments were summarised incisively by my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in 1981 when, as Lord Advocate, he said:The jury system, great institution that it is, surely can stand up to properly conducted research".A similar point was made by two English academic writers, who said:An institution which represents the very cornerstone of the English legal system and is central to the protection of the liberty of the subject ought to be open to reasonable scrutiny and public accountability, one part of which is responsible research.So, is the rule of confidentiality of jury room discussions as important as we believe? Secondly, could it be maintained in the face of research? Today, the answers to those questions are not really in dispute. It is fair to say that it is accepted by the House and supporters of the Bill as well as by opponents that confidentiality of the jury room is important and that, even if research is allowed,publication of any fact or opinion relating to any matter which occurred or was alleged to have occurred in the course of the deliberation of the jury in any legal proceedings in such a manner as to identify the particular case, any party, witness or circumstanceswould remain prohibited and a contempt of court.
I have no doubt that this is wise. because I equally have no doubt that confidentiality is profoundly important. It enables frank discussion. It allows a full consideration not only of the broader issues but of the nuances that are so important to the administration of justice. The confidence of the jury room allows jurors to express and perhaps thereby to exorcise prejudice and views or to ventilate anxieties that they might well not wish to raise or discuss publicly. No worry of libelling anyone even begins to arise. It makes it easier for a juror to change his or her mind, an essential attribute in the give and take of the jury room, and it makes it easier to draw upon and give instances from one's own experience to influence one's fellow jurors.
The question is how far would research inhibit or damage these benefits of confidentiality. How successful would be the strict proviso about non-disclosure and non-publication of any identifiable fact, person or detail? Much would no doubt remain entirely confidential, but it is hard to believe that there would not be leaks. If high-profile cases were the subject of jury research, it might be surprising if there were not leaks and if some were not used to cast doubt on the verdict or on the system. Fears that views and attitudes may become public may themselves hinder and distort the juries' deliberations. Those are the important questions on which we must focus and form a view.
Those who support the Bill will argue that if the jury has flaws, it is better to know of them than to allow them to remain concealed. There may be advantages in learning the view of jurors on a number of matters in order to be able to assist the operation of jury trial. For example, are cases presented generally in a way that is clear and accessible to jurors? Are documents of assistance to the jury? Are visual aids of value? By and large, can the jurors hear witnesses and counsel clearly? That is a fundamental question. To what extent are they helped by the judge's summing up? Should summings up be longer or shorter? 596 Are lengthy reviews of the evidence by the judge of value to the jury? It may be illuminating to have answers to more fundamental questions, such as how seriously, carefully and rationally most jurors approach their task, even if the answers to such questions are awkward.
I have never sat on a jury—some hon. Members will have done so—but I have frequently addressed juries, both for the prosecution and the defence, as an advocate and, as a recorder, I have watched them intently, guided them and given them my summing up. It is my impression that the great majority of jurors take their duties very seriously. They appear to listen carefully, to demonstrate considerable alertness to the key points and to do their very best to be just and fair. They appear, rightly, to dislike prosecutions for trivial matters, even if the evidence is sufficient. That is of value. Above all, they are genuinely good judges of the key matter of honesty and dishonesty.
On the whole, to express a personal view, I am inclined to think, with the Lord Chancellor, that the system would not be seriously threatened by properly conducted research. There would need to be strict guidelines, which would need to be argued through.
That brings us to the question: what is properly conducted research? Here we know less than we are entitled to, which to some extent makes me think that the Bill is premature. What evidence is there that sufficient ground work has been done by way of other aspects of jury research to justify the prize of the secrets of the jury room? Forbidden fruit is often the most enticing, but, until information drawn from jurors themselves is placed in the context of more general research, it may be premature.
It is worth focusing on what kind of questioning should be permitted. The Bill proposes that the research may be conducted ina manner approved by the person giving authority, into any specified matters affecting trial by jury".The matters are no doubt to be specified in the rules, which it is suggested should be rules of court. If that is followed, the issues will be considered by the rules committee.
There may be an advantage in having the kind of rules appropriate to the proper control of research considered by more public discussion, perhaps by careful consideration by a committee similar to that which has considered the matter of televising the courts either by the Bar, the Royal Society or a committee of academic researchers interested in this subject. I do not want to go on too long, so I shall draw my remarks to a close and illustrate just one aspect of that.
An article in The Independent of 1 July 1988 by Mr. Sean Enright, a barrister, raised some genuine questions. He suggested a searching line of questions to be carried out by researchers:We need to know, for instance, how well juries are applying legal directions relating to proof, corroboration, previous convictions and accomplice evidence. And if necessary we need to know what steps we can take to better communicate legal concepts to jurors.The last matter about good communications is a comparative general point, but the earlier questions would need to be explored in considerable depth if the answers were to be of any value.
I ask myself whether the jury are the right people to ask about the way in which they have applied directions about proof, corroboration and so on. If there is genuine doubt on those matters, is not the place for such doubts to be explored the Court of Appeal? In a case where corroboration is required, a jury will have been directed by 597 the judge about what was capable of being corroboration and what was not. If the jury find the case proved, they will presumably have been satisfied that there was corroboration.
That type of question would seem to be better researched by an examination of the transcript of the hearing, considerations in summing up, discussion perhaps with the prosecution and defence lawyers, and a consideration of any proceedings in the Court of Appeal. To ask a juror after the event to look back and to analyse his mind on such a matter would seem to require extremely detailed and intrusive questions, the answers to which might not be easy to evaluate and might lead to misleading conclusions.
In the United States there are no such restrictions. Jurors, in a sense, can be asked questions by almost anybody. The judges much disapprove of it, but there is a conflict in United States law concerning the first amendment, which allows publicity and publication of almost anything, unless there is a clear and evident danger, which virtually means danger of military attack almost related to the Gulf, or something of that nature.
The Americans have suffered from juries being considerably harried by litigators, parties to the case and, to some extent, researchers. Little research has been carried out, but there was an occasion in 1955 when the Senate judiciary committee castigated some researchers for the use they made of their research. Yet careful and balanced research, which would be available in the United States, does not seem to have been carried out, and that raises questions about how quickly we should proceed in the matter.
§ Dr. Woodcock
We have not suggested that the type of questions to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred are necessarily the right questions to be asked when doing research with jurors. We think that it would be appropriate to address those questions that would enable the juryman to perform his role better. We object to the absolute ban on jury research. We are not suggesting ghat there should be a free-for-all in jury research, but simply that it is inappropriate to say that never for any reason should a juryman be questioned.
§ The Solicitor-General
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point and I have indicated a certain personal sympathy towards it. It is an important subject and it is right that we should not be afraid to address the difficult questions to which I referred.
The House will recognise from what I have said that the Government keep an open mind on both issues, but that there are real questions to be answered by the proponents of the Bill before they can clearly be said to have established the principle of change. The Government wish to listen carefully on these matters to the views of the House.
§ 1.9 pm
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
This is a short Bill, but as is often the case, the length of the speeches has been in inverse proportion to that of the legislation.
I support the Bill. This is not a matter on which we take a party line, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), my fellow legal affairs spokesman, agrees that we should adopt a 598 constructive and helpful attitude. The Solicitor-General claimed to be neutral on the matter, but it seemed a rather obstructive kind of neutrality.
I shall speak as briefly as I can. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) argued that television trivialised and sensationalised the facts and would therefore be inappropriate in the courts. It does, of course, trivialise on occasion, and is sometimes in extraordinarily bad taste. It could have other damaging effects: the mere fact that about two thirds of our population get their news from television tells us something about the decline in reading standards.
None the less, when it comes to examining human rights and freedoms, television has much to commend it. I do not think that the recent peaceful revolutions in eastern Europe, and the trend towards democracy and freedom which, although tragically halted in China, is still progressing in the Soviet Union, would have been possible without television: it has provided both a projection of human rights and the advancement of democratic and just institutions. It has played an invaluable part in the emancipation of eastern Europe and other parts of the world. We should consider the positive aspects, as well as the negative aspects mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Burton.
Televising the courts would, of course, be an experiment. There is a precedent in the televising of the House of Commons. I was a member of the Select Committee on televising as long ago as 1967; some 22 years elapsed between the publication of our report and the launching of the experiment. Even 24 years ago, we saw no insuperable technical problems. Cameras could be small, unintrusive and unintimidating—as they have turned out to be. Lighting, which is frequently complained about, need be no stronger than the lighting required in offices, factories and other premises to comply with the law.
Nor have there been any problems in relation to editing restraint and balance—and the courts will have much greater powers than the House of Commons over editing and exclusion of material. Much as I respect you, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is not open to you to edit any part of this morning's proceedings or to complain about balance or about what can be broadcast; it is, however, open to a judge to exclude evidence when conducting a trial. It is extremely unlikely that any trial will be carried live; that would involve great dangers, and I do not think that anyone has advocated it. The power to edit and exclude, however, is inherent even in existing legislation.
The most important reason for allowing the televising both of Parliament and, experimentally, of the courts is that people are entitled to observe the workings of the institutions that govern their lives and liberties. They have the right to be present—if only electronically—to assess those institutions and to change them if need be. No matter how high and grand such institutions may be, they are not ultimately intended to be sacred or mysterious; they are intended to act as the servants of the population, not the masters. The same sentiments apply to television, but that is another matter.
For centuries, the axiom has been that justice should not only be done but be seen to be done. In practice, few people would want to sit through the unedited proceedings of a court. I must declare an interest as a lawyer. Unless I have been an advocate in a case, I have never had any great interest in attending a trial. My boredom threshold is 599 quickly reached and most members of the public would find it difficult to withstand the boredom of a trial. However, they have a right to see a balanced and edited version of how our institutions work.
Television can illuminate the working of the courts, as it has illuminated the working of the House. It can increase people's respect and understanding of our legal system and bring a public lay focus to bear on its workings. It will enable the public, in appropriate cases, to witness matters of interest and concern to them and how the law is being administered.
If I have the right to walk into a court and view its proceedings, why should I not have the right, subject to proper safeguards, to view that through a camera? I should have that right, unless my exercising it diminishes the rights of others, principally the defendant whose case is in issue before the court. I have a right to view, but the defendant has more right to a fair trial without his or her rights being interfered with by the cameras or by my viewing the case. That balance must be struck. In the long term, however, the exercise of my right to view and to reach a judgment may enhance the effectiveness of the administration of justice and the rights of others.
We cannot judge whether televising the courts will, in practice, diminish or enhance the rights of others or remain, like the Solicitor-General's speech, neutral until there has been an experiment and research—hence the justification for the Bill. If research shows that televising the courts is unviable, it can be dropped, but it is worth while to begin research under the rules of court and under the supervision of judges and the Lord Chancellor. Those are immensely powerful safeguards against abuse of such research.
I do not deny that there are problems and that the worst problems will occur in criminal trials. There is bound to be disproportionate punishment and injury to a defendant, regardless of whether he or she is convicted or acquitted. If proceedings relating to a minor case of indecent exposure were televised, the damage done to the defendant would be the same, regardless of whether he was convicted or acquitted, and his suffering would be disproportionate to the gravity of the offence. That is a good argument for not televising magistrates courts.
Juries are told by judges that they must not be influenced by other people or discuss the case, but if it has appeared on television there is a risk of discussion. There is a risk to jurors if their faces are seen on television. However, those matters can be dealt with. The jury should never appear on the television camera. Moreover, the problems of televising trials can be compared with those experienced by jurors when a trial is discussed extensively in the newspapers. I have no problem about imposing reporting restrictions, because widespread restrictions on the press already exist. Without the consent of the defendant, it cannot report on committal proceedings, and there are restrictions on reporting trials for rape, blackmail and other matters.
Although I could list the difficulties involved, there is a strong case for experimenting with cameras in court and not concentrating too much on televising criminal trials. It is possible to exaggerate the difficulties involved in allowing the public access through television cameras, but in many judicial venues it would be almost impossible to 600 imagine interference in the conduct of justice. For instance, I do not see how there could be prejudice in the occasional televising of the Judicial Committee of the other place. If the Chamber of the other place is televised, I see no problem about televising members of that Chamber when sitting in a committee room giving judgment or deciding an appeal. After all, they give their judgment in the Chamber. It would be ludicrous to say that there is no prejudice when the Law Lords are seen legislating, but that there would be prejudice when they were seen passing judgment in a Judicial Committee case.
§ Mr. Lawrence
The hon. Gentleman's remarks touch on an important question, which I asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, but to which I received the wrong answer. First, does the hon. Gentleman consider that television companies will have much enthusiasm for televising the courts if everything is to be "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd" by all those restrictions and limitations?
Secondly, the difference between televising the courts and televising Parliament is, I believe, that the state pays for the televising of Parliament. I doubt whether television companies will want to invest in the expenditure required for permanent coverage in the courts.
§ Mr. Fraser
My answer is exactly the same as that of the Solicitor-General—yes. However, to take the matter a little further, the Bill is not an exercise for the benefit of televison companies. They must decide whether televising court trials will be commercially worth while. They may decide that it is not, just as running a newspaper may not be commercially worth while, but that is a question for them and not for us.
The Judicial Committee of the other place deals with some fairly important matters. That would have been appreciated if the conduct and judgment in the Hammersmith swaps case had been recorded on television. That case was not merely of municipal importance but of massive financial importance for this country and internationally. I happen to believe that the legal precision of the judges in another place was not preferable to the Court of Appeal's rather more pragmatic and commonsense approach, but other people might have looked at an edited version of that trial in the Court of Appeal and the conduct of the appeal in another place and formed their own judgment. I mention that case because it is one of worldwide and not just municipal importance. There will be considerable interest in recording such a case as it would show how our courts work. Such coverage would not mean any possible prejudice to the people involved.
What about judicial inquiries into the building of nuclear power stations? Most members of the public would find it impossible to attend an entire inquiry, which would take many months, but such inquiries are of major importance to specific localities. Why should people not have the opportunity to see an edited version of the conduct of those proceedings? Such inquiries may also cover subjects such as whether county hall should be a municipal building or a hotel. I see no prejudice in those events, particularly if the proceedings are edited. I can think of many other examples of non-criminal proceedings which could properly be recorded for television.
On criminal proceedings, I recognise that there is a danger in having trials of first instance televised, but what about the forthcoming appeal of the Birmingham Six? 601 That case generates transnational interest and the workings of the appeal system are under scrutiny. I shall say no more about that case, as it is before the courts now, but the televised proceedings not just of that case but of others on appeal would generate great interest as they would highlight the workings of the appeal system.
We shall not know whether I am right or, indeed, whether anyone else is until we have had an experiment. However, there are many instances where the cameras could go into a court unobtrusively to reveal the workings of the legal system without prejudice or embarrassment to those involved in that process.
At present it is impossible to interview juries even for the purpose of helping them to do their job better. I believe that there should be a controlled, supervised, anonymous and confidential mechanism to enable questions to be asked of jurors. That would reveal how well they follow the evidence and the documents presented to them. One could also learn how effective was the summing up on their decisions. The Solicitor-General gave a list of questions that could be asked in the course of research on juries.
No one in the House doubts that juries are the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. We do not know how long we have had juries. Some people argue that juries existed before 1066, but it is certainly beyond doubt that they were introduced for criminal trials in 1166 by Henry II. They have the enormous advantage of giving the public confidence in the verdicts delivered. It is odd that people have more confidence in the judgment of laymen than ever they have in the judgment of experts. It is when an expert tells us that something is safe, or something cannot happen, that we need to be on our guard.
There is great confidence in the judgments and verdicts of our peers, and long may that be so. As the Solicitor-General said, juries provide a safeguard against trivialising the law and against unjust laws—in that context, perhaps, one is allowed to mention section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. Certainly juries provided protection at a lime when people could suffer capital punishment for the most trivial offences because in those circumstances juries refused to convict. I am sure that that led to a change in the law when less punitive offences were introduced for those engaged in what would now be regarded as minor acts of dishonesty. At one time causing criminal damage to trees was subject to capital punishment.
It is extraordinary that no one has ever been able to carry out research into the way in which juries function. Some may say that the function of the jury is not in doubt and the Solicitor-General said that there is no need to mend something that is not broken. However the report of the Roskill committee, which looked into serious fraud, posed many questions about the function and effectiveness of juries. Although its remit was in relation only to complex fraud trials, many of its, remarks about questioning the effectiveness of the function of the jury have equal application to other complex cases involving, for instance, complex scientific evidence as opposed to complex accountancy evidence.
The Roskill report states:We doubt whether the public at large appreciates the characteristics of a complex fraud case"—one could substitute the words "complex criminal case" for "complex fraud case"— 602or the difficulties which face an average juror. World financial markets are becoming more complex, more integrated and interdependent, more competitive and more automated … We see now a few cases of fraud where the evidence is so complex and the alleged dishonesty so deeply buried, that even a trained business mind cannot easily encompass the case and all its ramifications.The report concluded that some fraud trials should have not a jury but a special kind of serious fraud tribunal. I am glad that the Government and the House rejected that proposition, but that does not take away from us the responsibility—as we have chosen to say that even in the most complex cases juries should continue to govern the verdict—of ensuring that juries are better able to discharge their functions. We have confirmed and ratified that responsibility.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell
I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would say that some trials are so technical that a lay jury is not the right body to adjudicate upon them. That is completely different from questioning whether juries should be put through an inquisition to find out whether they are up to the job, which undermines the principle of having a jury.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am not arguing, and I did not argue during the Roskill inquiry, that there are cases so complex that a jury is not fit to discharge its present function in them. I have never argued that. The verdict of the House is that we should continue with the jury system and I do not want to undermine that. Having decided that juries should continue to give the verdict in serious fraud trials, we need to sustain their ability to understand and properly to discharge their function. If we do not, there is a danger that guilty men will go free simply because the jury cannot follow the proceedings. If that is so of fraud trials, it must be so of other trials. My argument would be sustained if one removed the word "fraud" from the Roskill inquiry and considered just the word "complex". A passage in the Roskill report sums that up:When the case eventually comes to trial the juror is faced with many difficulties. He is initially likely to be unfamiliar with the procedure. There may be many defendants, and multiple charges against each.That goes for other than fraud trials. The report states:He may have difficulty in remembering who's who and who is accused of what. The background against which the frauds"—one could say other crimes——are alleged to have been committed—the sophisiticated world of high finance and international trading—is probably a mystery to most or all of the jurors, its customs and practices a closed book.That is true of other crimes. The report continues:Even the language in which the allegedly fraudulent transactions have been conducted will be unfamiliar.The report states:A knowledge of accountancy or book-keeping may be essential to an understanding of the case. If any juror has such knowledge, it is by chance.The Roskill committee considered the problem of examining documentary evidence and said:The evidence before the jury may run to hundreds, or even thousands, of documents. Sometimes these are presented in huge, ill ordered bundles. Little attempt may have been made to summarise or simplify the evidence.That criticism is true of many other trials. The report continued:Sometimes the tactics of the lawyers will seem designed to obsecure rather than to evince the truth".I am sure that that will interest the hon. and learned Member for Burton.
603 The report went on:Although the taking of notes by jurors and questions to the judge are both permitted, a juror serving for the first time may not know whether either practice is welcome or useful: a brief, explanatory leaflet which is provided for everyone summoned for jury service falls short of encouraging note-taking, and positively urges restraint in the asking of questions.The telling paragraph is paragraph 8.33, which says:Because direct research on jurors' comprehension of actual fraud cases would amount to a contempt of court, we commissioned a research project of a more indirect nature from the MRC Applied Psychology Unit at Cambridge.One cannot ask the jurors because of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. The Bill would give us the chance to ask the people involved instead of having to make assumptions about the way in which they regarded these matters.
The House decided to confirm the use of jurors in all complex cases. That does not do away with the issues raised by the Roskill committee which have a wider application than fraud trials. I believe that research would sustain the jury system and, even more importantly, help us to work more effectively.
The Bill would provide for two forms of research. One would allow greater public access to the working of the court and one would help the jury system to work well and to be based on fact rather than on speculation, guesswork and respect for tradition. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock) for introducing the Bill and for the helpful report presided over by Jonathan Caplan.
Television is more controversial than the reform of the law on jurors. We have been asked only to authorise research. A hundred reasons may be advanced against television in the court, but those reasons are usually rationalisations against making changes. There are certainly strong reasons for not diminishing the role of juries, but we are not being asked to change anything. The Bill merely provides for a factual basis on which we can make judgments. There is no single reason to oppose the proposition.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I am pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock). The Bill is an important but modest measure. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent and vigorous speech in which he defended and explained the proposed measure. Unlike most of the participants in today's debate, but like my hon. Friend, I am not a lawyer. I am neither pro-lawyer nor anti-lawyer. I support the Bill not only as a sponsor, but as someone who recognises that it deals with an issue that is important not only to lawyers, but to many professions and to society in general.
In a democracy, it is absolutely essential to have an impartial and open system of justice. "Open" in this day and age—when even the proceedings of this House are televised—must mean open to scrutiny by a much wider public via television.
I listened with considerable interest to the two halves of the speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). As a practising and successful lawyer, he has much to offer the debate. However, his argument was fatally flawed because he 604 failed to take into account the real issue which some of us have raised or will raise today. The media already have wide access to the courts. They report the spectacular court cases on television and in the newspapers.
The witnesses and the legal performances are already analysed on the news at 9 pm and at 10 pm. We often have comments on the participants and witnesses, and on what was and what was not said. We have artistic impressions on the television screen depicting the court room during the day. We often have trivialised and graphic accounts in the mass media of what has happened in major court cases. At present, the public are denied the right to make their own observations in appropriate cases because they are denied direct access to the courtroom. The public get everything secondhand from journalists and from legal experts on television or in the newspapers. The Bill examines that fundamental issue and calls for change and experimentation so that the public can have wider access to what is going on in the courtroom rather than such matters being presented to them by experts on television. I immensely enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), especially when he said that whenever experts agree, they are invariably wrong. I believe that we should discount experts.
I want to make three observations about the Bill—on the role of society and television today, on education and on juries. Legal proceedings are a serious business. If one reads history books, one finds that in a different era courts were treated rather like theatres and played to packed audiences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said, the Criminal Justice Act 1925 ensured that there was a more sombre mood in the reporting of court cases. We have moved on into the 1990s.
Television is the communication medium from which the majority of people derive information. It is easy to be superior about television, to take intellectual stances and to criticise television programmes, but it is a fact of today that television is important.
I was surprised when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton suggested that television was coming into people's sitting rooms purely for entertainment. Many people use television not for entertainment, but as a means of gaining information, of education and of keeping in touch with areas of society and the world that they have never visited and to which they cannot get. That is important when we consider televising the courts.
It is all very well to say that anyone can go into a court. That is, of course, the case as long as there is enough seating for people to watch the performance and to enjoy or to learn about what is going on. We know that the seating in Parliament is limited and that only a certain number of people can watch the House each day. People cannot come to the House and watch the proceedings as often as they would like. Television has given them that opportunity and television would give people the opportunity to watch sections of court cases so that they could be informed about what goes on. Hon. Members cannot say that everyone can walk into any court. It is not practical in terms of space in the public gallery and people cannot get from one side of the country to another or to the capital to see a trial at the Old Bailey because of the expense involved.
The thought that the presence of television would inhibit courtroom performances by witnesses or would encourage laywers to perform to the cameras and to star nightly on the news is too ludicrous for words. There is 605 already theatricality in legal proceedings. We know that from observing court cases ourselves. In my university days at the London school of economics, I took a legal institutions course and I went to various courts to see how the legal system worked. Televising the House has not altered the performances of individuals. Most of us do not know where the cameras are and do not notice what they are doing because we have a point to make, a job to do and issues to raise. We do not look at the recording of this or that occurrence or of a particular debate. We consider the issues and we tackle the job that we have to do.
People in court—lawyers, judges, recorders and whoever else—will continue to do their jobs irrespective of who may be in the public gallery, drawing a sketch or writing notes on the performances or the events of the day. We can discount the argument that television would change or inhibit court proceedings.
I do not understand why television should be feared. It should be welcomed and encouraged because it has advanced society and the lives that we lead. There was a long debate in opposition to televising the Chamber. I intended to ask my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton whether he was against televising the House, because if one closed one's eyes and listened to him, one would have realised that many of his arguments were those that were advanced by opponents of televising the House.
Television is not the horror that it is made out to be by those who oppose televising the courts. However, I accept the arguments that the Solicitor-General made in a very balanced speech, although it was a little too neutral from my point of view. Hon. Members supporting the Bill recognise that televising the courts will have to be done carefully and that we shall have to be cautious in certain cases. However, we should not dismiss the opportunity to televise certain court cases merely because we realise that it would not be sensible to televise others.
Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, I have never been a juror, but a number of my constituents have come to see me because they are worried about serving on a jury. They have no courtroom experience and are frightened of what lies before them. They are not lawyers and fortunately they do not have any experience of courts from their private lives. Therefore, they are uneducated in the workings of a court, of how cases develop and of what they are expected to do. There is no training for jurors. They are summoned to serve on a jury and they are presented in a rather intimidatory fashion with the job that they have to do. Televising trials would give people the opportunity to understand what is going on and to see a courtroom for themselves before they become jurors. That is an important aspect of the educational role offered by television.
Television and videos have become important means of giving wider experience to our children at school. We may all regret that the button on the television at home is not turned to the off position more frequently, because our children, and society in general, watch too much television. Nevertheless, televising the House has given people an interest and an education in certain aspect of how Parliament works and television could do the same for the courts. If courts are televised at least when people become jurors they will have some idea of what a courtroom looks like and of the roles and duties of the people who perform in courts.
§ Mr. Stern
Does my hon. Friend agree that he is talking about only one part of the problem? Like him, I have constituents come to me when they are summoned to jury service because they are worried about what they will have to do. However, they are not so worried about courtroom procedure, which they are reasonably familiar with—after all they can go to a court and look. People in ordinary jobs are worried about finding themselves in the jury room at the end of a six-month trial having to decide upon a complex fraud case. At the moment that is a totally closed experience to anyone who is summoned to serve on a jury. Does he agree that the type of experiment that we have been discussing may help to remove some fears about that end of the experience?
§ Mr. Evennett
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He has described succinctly the fears that have been expressed by our constituents about the difficulties and complexities of being a jury member. The fear of being in court and on a jury and not being able to understand the complex issues has led jurors to tell me that they were relieved to get back to work and to leave that job which they recognise is invaluable in our society. I passionately believe in the jury system and I do not want it to end. Removing juries would be a disservice to our country.
We must not be afraid of experimentation. We must not be put off by the difficulties involved in research into juries or of having cameras in courts and the initial problems that might arise. We must make progress. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton referred to trendy or liberal vicars. I had not imagined that a supporter of this Bill could be described as liberal in the sense of doing something just because it was fashionable. However, I must admit that even the Church has used modern media to promote its cause effectively.
The Bill offers an opportunity to expand education and knowledge and also to make the system more effective so that justice is done and seen to be done. I support the Bill in the interests of justice in an attempt to improve justice. Our legal system is first class. It is the best in the world and I say that as a non-lawyer and someone who is proud to be British and part of the British judicial system. However, that does not mean that the system cannot be improved. It would be regrettable if Members who are prominent lawyers tried to kill the Bill by speaking at such great length that we do not have the opportunity to take the Bill to Standing Committee to discuss the difficulties and problems to which reference has been made in this debate.
Killing the Bill would not be in the interests of justice and it would certainly not be in the public interest. People will be disappointed if they do not have access to the courts via their television sets with the restrictions described wisely by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General.
People do not love lawyers or politicians. However, as a result of the televising of our proceedings, more people have been able to hear and see at first hand what we are saying and doing instead of having to rely on experts on the television telling them what politicians have or have not said. By turning on the television, people have an automatic opportunity to see what leading members of the Government or the Opposition are saying.
§ Mr. Summerson
My hon. Friend referred to people watching us on television. Does he agree that that can be misleading because people tend to believe that we do everything in the Chamber?
§ Mr. Evennett
I do not agree with that. I am a member of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. Our proceedings on that Select Committee have been televised and people have written to me after watching the broadcasts. If people were to see the Chamber today and on other occasions when it is three quarters empty, they would wonder what on earth we were up to. Fortunately most of us receive a great deal of constituency correspondence. Our constituents know that we spend much time answering their letters. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), who has an excellent constituency record, writes many constituency letters. His constituents know that when he is not in the Chamber is is elsewhere looking after their interests.
If the broadcasting of court proceedings is shown to promote public understanding of the legal system without impeding the administration of justice—that is a very big rider—a significant reform will have been accomplished by the Bill.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)
Several of my hon. Friends will seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. As we have only 36 minutes left, I shall try to keep my remarks rather briefer than I had intended. I had wanted to make a large number of points. I listened with great care to the powerful and eloquent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock). I was deeply sceptical, but my hon. Friend changed my view to mere scepticism.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) went to the heart of the matter. The point about whether television would foster better understanding of the courts, which was at the heart of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, was not effectively made. The idea that the televising of courts would be an experiment is patently absurd. We all know perfectly well that once television cameras are in the courts they will be there to stay. Anyone who supports the Bill should not attach any weight to the idea that it would remain an experiment. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton wondered whether it would become a media circus. He said with great percipience that education is the price that television pays for entertainment. That is right. There must be a serious and legitimate concern about the possibility of our courts being degraded.
The case for television as a possible weapon in the army of deterrents was not well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. There is clear evidence that television coverage can deter potential criminals. One needs think only of the amount of time that was recently spent in the House condemning badger baiting and urging that the law be changed. I say that because my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) is on the Government Front Bench. I know of his deep concern about the future of the badger. There is no doubt that if the public, who are already revolted by badger baiters, were to see a trial on television and the evil people in the dock, it would certainly reinforce the deterrent effect of the law.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
My hon. Friend leads me to my worry about the Bill. I am not sure whether he is on to a very good point. The type of people who are likely to commit the offences that are to be outlawed under the Badgers Bill, if it receives Royal Assent, are disagreeable. However, for them to get into the courtroom, which might be televised, and for them to be convicted they would need witnesses to give evidence against them. Might not those witnesses, by the very presence of television, be intimidated and not give evidence on the ground that, when they leave the court room, they might fear for their own safety? That is my concern about the Bill.
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend is on to an extremely good point about the effect that television would have on witnesses. Were it not for the time, I would have spent some time dealing with the effect of television on witnesses appearing in court and on witnesses being willing to testify. I imagine that that is an extremely frightening experience. I am at one with my hon. Friend on that point. I used the badger example purely because I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry is on the Treasury Bench and that is one area in which the case made by the proposer may have some justification in that the proposals might have a deterrent effect.
I read with great interest the Bar Council's extremely interesting and well-written report. There is no doubt that barristers like taking part in public affairs, but the report must be seen in context. It makes the case for television. It does not seek to give an impartial view of whether television would be a good thing. It seeks to put the case for the Bar Council that television would be a good thing.
The report contains a number of flaws, of which I shall refer to two that have already been mentioned briefly. First, the report refers to the example of the United States. However, television cameras have been allowed only into the state courts, not the federal courts. There is no evidence that permission would be given for that. Secondly, the list of countries that allow cameras in their courts is not all that impressive. The case for television in court has not been made in several of our Community partner countries. Furthermore, the list of senior judges who have come out in support of television does not in any way make the case that many judges are in favour of the proposals.
Therefore, although I read the report with great interest, I did not find it compelling. Television would inevitably focus on the sensational and the salacious. In many senses, television is the great trivialiser and it would not be a benefit to justice.
There are other reasons for opposing the proposals. The Bar Council recommends that broadcasters apply on a case-by-case basis, but presumably some cases could be excluded. The Bar Council states that a judge could decide to exclude the cameras halfway through a case. What about the position of the defendant? That is a cavalier approach to what would be a major change to the current system of justice. Why should some cases be broadcast and not others? Where is the justice in that?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
My hon. Friend is not being as serious as he often is. At the moment, we allow the press to decide which parts of a court case to pick and which cases to attend. Allowing television the same discretion, even on a research basis, is not a difference of principle. The key point is whether my hon. Friend is arguing the 609 historic negative—that we cannot do something in a new way because it has not been done that way before. Or is my hon. Friend arguing that things are so self-evidently right that there should never on any account be any research on jurors or any television trials for whatever purpose? I could understand that, but to say that because we have not had the experience, we cannot say that something is a good thing strikes me as the argument for abolishing this place, because we tend to change things.
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend is behaving like a barrister—he is knocking down a case that I have not even put. If he reads Hansard carefully, he will see that I was making neither of those two arguments. It is interesting that there has been no discussion of whether radio should be allowed in the courts. There is nothing about that in the Bar Council's report. As I have said, it left me with the feeling that members of the Bar like to take part in public affairs. They have a view about life and want to pass it to a wider audience.
I should like to read to the House some of the eight reasons given in the Bar Council report in favour of what it is seeking. The report refers tothe experience of our legal colleagues abroad. The televising of their courts has been overwhelmingly favourable.I did not see any evidence for that view in the report. Television may or may not be good for justice, but the evidence is not in the report.
The report also states:The 1925 ban on photography in court was intended to apply to sensational stills photography and was simply extended without debate to television when it became commercially available. Parliament has never considered the issue of televising the courts.Again, all that may be true, but that is an observation, not a reason in favour of what the Bar Council is proposing.
The report continues:Television is today the most important news medium. Over 70 per cent. of our population rely upon it as the principal source of their information.So what? Will the processes of justice be enhanced as a result?
As I said, I read the report with great interest, especially its seventh conclusion, which states:Televising the courts would have an informative and educative value.But that is not what the courts are for. It is a clever and interesting document, but, although it is deeply thought provoking, it does not make a strong case.
I shall not examine the effect of television on the witnesses, but I shall look at the effect on the jury. A number of my hon. Friends have told us whether they undertook jury service. I did undertake jury service, on one occasion and shortly before I was elected to this place. I went to the Old Bailey and was part of a jury—indeed the foreman—on a two-day trial. Although the experience was deeply educational, it did not make me feel that the jury system was in need of enormous improvement.
One improvement has been made since that time. On the first day that I arrived, dressed in a suit, very much as I am now, I could not understand why, in every case in which I was presented as a juror, there were shouts of "object" from the defence barristers. I rang one of my friends in the legal profession—I have nothing against lawyers and some of my best friends are lawyers—to ask him about this phenomenom. He explained that I was not correctly attired for going on to a jury. He advised me to turn up in a pair of jeans, a pair of suede shoes, a 610 roll-necked jersey and a pair of those Leon Trostsky glasses that were very much favoured by my hon. Friend the Member for Elton (Mr. Bottomley). Immediately, I was on trial the next morning. The piece de resistance was the rolled up copy of The Guardian that I had under my arm.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Fortunately, the problem did not arise when I turned up on the second day wearing a roll-necked sweater.
There is no doubt that the effect of television on jurors and potential jurors would be substantial. When they have a break, juries are told not to discuss with anybody else the case that they are trying. That important principle would be undermined if television were allowed into the courts. I am sure that some jurors would want television and others would shun the very idea. It would lead to pressure and could change the verdict. That point should occupy us most in our discussions of this matter.
I have exceeded my self-allotted time limit so I shall not make many of the other points that I could make. It would be a mistake for the provisions of the Bill to be enacted. I apologise to the House because I shall not be here at 2.30 to vote, but, were I here, I should vote against Second Reading. The Bill would not enhance the process of justice and such enhancement should be our key aim.
§ 2.7 pm
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
Many of the arguments for and against the Bill have already been well covered and I shall concentrate on just a couple of specific points. We are going through not a crisis—that is too strong a word—but a period in which the role of our courts and the facilities with which they dispense what most people accept as justice is under deeper question than I can ever remember their being during the whole of my adult life.
I wish to explore whether the advent of even an experiment of televising part of or all our court proceedings would assist members of the general public in deciding whether what they regarded as justice was being dispensed in the courts. On balance, I come to the view that the exposure of many of the arcane procedures of our courts would be of assistance in determining whether those procedures were as acceptable to the public of the 1990s as they were, one assumes, to the public of the 1890s.
My initial reaction to the Bill, in so far as the measure is purely experimental, is to welcome it. The courts will gain from such exposure, even if it is merely experimental. Unlike my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who expressed doubts, I believe that once the experiment has been conducted the courts, the legal professions and legal departments may well decide that the experiment has been sufficient and that we need go no further down the road of constant exposure of our courts to television.
How often do all of us in our surgeries and going around our constituencies come across ordinary people on middle incomes who believe that justice is no longer for them, while people on low incomes have access to the courts through legal aid and people on high incomes or 611 with considerable wealth have access to the courts through their own resources? Between those two extremes are people for whom any contact with the legal process is a disaster. If they are accused of an offence of any sort, whether guilty or innocent, they believe that they are broken before the process starts.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It was suggested earlier that the introduction of television into the courts was likely to increase public confidence in our legal system. The public confidence that does not necessarily exist in our legal system is absent not because of a lack of visibility of our courts system, but because of the cost of court proceedings and the delays involved in the judicial system. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not because television cameras are not there?
§ Mr. Stern
I understand my hon. Friend's point, and he is right in part. The existence of television in court would help not so much to increase knowledge of the system as to throw light on those parts of the system that could be susceptible to change, given sufficient pressure, to make the courts more open to the ordinary individual. The fear of the legal process—fear is the only word to describe it—may be heightened when people see a six-month fraud trial on television. Any one of us could stand accused of fraud in our day-to-day dealings. I am sure that that does not apply to my hon. Friend, but it does apply to most of us. We would then have to face a trial which, if the Bill were enacted, would be seen on television. The fact that it would be on television would increase public pressure for a more user-friendly system of courts and of access to justice. That would deal with some of the present problems. I accept that the problem is not directly one of knowledge, but indirectly knowledge would aid in changing the system.
I intervened in the clear exposition of the purpose of the Bill given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock). Any hon. Member who has experience in constituency work of the most deeply felt cases involving the physical abuse of children will know that that is where the fear of the judicial process is greatest. Any adult accused of abusing a child in any way will find that, however fairly the system is conducted, it seems to be biased against the adult.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock) said that the system would not necessarily alter the absolute bar on televising or the use of photography in cases involving children and I accept that in cases involving children who are asked to take the witness stand, whether in front of or behind a screen, he is right. But I wonder whether the fear of the judicial process might be eased if the cameras were allowed, on an experimental basis, in that part of a case involving a child when an adult was giving evidence or otherwise appearing in the case. In my experience of such cases—unfortunately, in the county of Avon, where there tend to be a number of such cases, I have had exposure to some of them—adults frequently need an opportunity to justify themselves in public. Too often that opportunity is not available under our present courts system. The experiment that would be initiated as a result of the Bill might increase at least the perception of justice in such cases.
612 Because of the lack of time, I will raise just one final point concerning the jury system. I have never served on a jury. Apart from being a Member of this place, I was previously in a profession in which it was rare that I was not able to put to the court a case for saying that my profession did not allow me to be a juror because of the risk of the length of time that I would be away from my work. In the 1970s when I was a parliamentary candidate, having been called as a juror at the central criminal court, the fact of being a candidate debarred me from every jury available at the time because I could not tell the court in all honesty that my profession enabled me to be on a trial of the length that that court anticipated.
Many of my colleagues in the accountancy profession are in a similar position. They are potentially liable to jury service, but the fear of what that service could do to them in their professional or business activities means that their first reaction on being called is to look for excuses to avoid serving. In part, I suspect that such pressure is unavoidable, certainly for so long as we submit jurors to trials of the length to which we have referred today. In part also, however, the reason why so many people try to avoid jury service as soon as they are called is ignorance of what being a juror involves. Again, the experiment that the Bill would permit could help to break down that fear of jury service. For that reason, I commend the experiment to the House.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), I apologise for the fact that, because I have to catch a train to my constituency, I may not be present if a Division is called at the end of the debate. Meanwhile, however, I wish the Bill well.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock) on the way in which he introduced the Bill. Unlike some others, I did not parachute into the debate with a prejudice one way or the other. Debates of this type in the House prove the advantage, as has happened on other occasions in the recent past, of listening to the arguments on both sides. It is then possible to be conscious of some of the issues, but to reach a view on which side to take.
In this case we must decide whether the broadcasting and recording of trials should take place at some stage, and under what conditions that should occur. I come to the conclusion at the end of the debate, having listened to as much of it as any hon. Member present—perhaps with the exception of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground), who has listened to all of it, even though he may not have an opportunity to speak—that broadcasting and recording should at some stage be allowed, and I believe that the way that is recommended in the Bill would be the right way to do it. I think that it is better for strict controls to be available to the courts and the Lord Chancellor than for us to try to write regulations into primary legislation.
Research into the jury system and jury experience is, I believe, worth while. I do not think it essential for the Bill to be passed this year, although I shall support it enthusiastically if it comes to a vote, but I certainly feel that we sometimes disregard important points.
First, the experts are not always wrong—being in possession of the facts often helps people to reach 613 judgments. I hope to demonstrate that point next Tuesday in relation to the legal implications of mass random breath testing. Only if we have the facts can we improve things. Government and Parliament tend sometimes to ignore the importance of commissioning effective research, the conclusions of the research that we do commission and, finally, the fact that we should do something about the system.
Secondly, we underestimate the competence of broadcasters. I agree with what has been said about the relevance of radio as well as television, but I think that that would be better discussed in Committee. In general, broadcasters write guidelines for themselves and if those guidelines are observed, they will ensure our safety and their competence. I have read the BBC guidelines, although I have not read those of ITN or the regional commercial television companies, and I congratulate the BBC. If followed, those guidelines can get rid of most of the controversies. For instance, I believe that the problem involving the programme "Real Lives" resulted from the BBC's failure to follow its own guidelines. If he is responsible for them, Will Wyatt—who has just become managing director of BBC television—should also be congratulated on the guidelines. They can be bought for £5 at the BBC bookshop.
If broadcasters write their own guidelines they can discuss them in advance, which is better than the assumption that, because a broadcast has proved embarrassing, the broadcasters are all wrong. Broadcasters have editorial discretion, in that they cannot be told what to broadcast, but they can decide for themselves—and, if necessary, be told by the rules of the courts—what they cannot broadcast. That, surely, is right.
Nothing is necessarily intended from the beginning to be permanent. Permission for the construction of the Eiffel tower was granted only on condition that it was taken down immediately afterwards; yet it now symbolises France, as justice symbolises Britain. We cannot claim that our system of justice is perfect; if it were, we should not have a cascading appeal system. But we know that we must play by the rules and seek what is right.
I am not a lawyer, but I will tell two stories that are doubtless common currency at all lawyers' dinners. The first is of Lord Denning being told that the House of Lords had upheld one of his judgments. His response was, "I still think I was right." The second is of a judge meeting a friend outside the High Court. The friend asked, "Going back in to dispense justice?" to which the judge replied, "No; my job is to play the game by the rules."
Concern has been expressed about the effect of televising on witnesses. For a witness, the most intimidating aspect of a case is being told by a barrister, "I put it to you that…", followed by a series of claims which may not be true. The witness then has to find his way out of a web that has often been woven by someone who has read a book called "The Art of Cross-Examination", explaining how people can be tripped up and tested almost beyond breaking point. I do not think that the addition of televising will do much damage.
Our first aim should be to have less crime, and understanding the court process might help with that. We also want less conflict ending up in the civil court. Although I do not believe that we should be frightened of the law or of courts, I believe that we should reduce the number of cases that come to court. We should search for a better system of justice, and, as my hon. Friend the 614 Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) pointed out, we should aim for a cheaper way of administering justice effectively. We do not want cut-price, ineffective justice, but we want justice to be both more efficient and more ecnomical. I think that commissioned research could be helpful in all those respects.
I do not think that the Bill would necessarily lead to the permanent televising of cases, although that is possible. I believe, however, that if we allow the law to remain the one forum in which, without primary legislation, no one can record for research or broadcasting purposes, we shall be holding ourselves apart from the radio and television age. It is, after all, through the broadcast media that most people find out what is going on.
The Bill should be given a Second Reading. If it is not, I hope that the Government will consider the debate and see whether some form of broadcasting can be allowed in the courts.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
(Brigg and Cleethorpes): I told my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Dr. Woodcock) yesterday that I should like to speak for perhaps 20 minutes or half an hour. It is clear that I shall not be able to speak for long.
I commend the way in which my hon. Friend presented the Bill. We have had a worthwhile debate. My hon. Friend's motives cannot be challenged and I admired the way in which he put his case and the arguments that he used to support it.
I was persuaded by the speeches of my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who said that although the intentions of the Bill are honourable, if we were to give it a Second Reading we should be opening a large can of worms.
I am concerned about the long-term impact of the Bill. I accept that it proposes an experiment, but, as supporters of the Bill have said, the aim of the experiment is to prove that televising courts will be worth while. That is the objective of the Bill and I do not complain about it, but we cannot say that it is simply a dispassionate experiment to prove or disprove the proposal. It is being proposed on the basis that there is a case for having television cameras in the court room.
I am concerned about witnesses being intimidated by television cameras. I spoke a couple of days ago on clause 25 of the Criminal Justice Bill, which lists categories of sexual offences. The careers of witnesses or defendants are often ruined by appearing in court, with all the attendant press publicity. I am trying to imagine the effect of the Bill if the experiment were to become a permanent feature of our judicial proceedings—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 22, Noes Nil.615
|Division No. 77]||[2.28 pm|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Boateng, Paul||Carrington, Matthew|
|Bottomley, Peter||Cash, William|
|Boyes, Roland||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Cox, Tom||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Dixon, Don||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Evennett, David||Skinner, Dennis|
|Fraser, John||Spearing, Nigel|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Irvine, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Knapman, Roger||Dr. Mike Woodcock and Mr. Humfrey Malins.|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mr. Michael Brown and Mr. James Arbuthnot.|
§ It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER, declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.