Federal Judges Should Look at U.K. Proposal For Cameras in the Courtroom

There's another bill in Congress about allowing cameras in federal courtrooms. It's sure to go nowhere and efforts to make proceedings widely available may always be stymied.

The pending Senate bill would allow a judge to halt the cameras if he or she believes the lenses would have a negative or distortive impact. And there would be no focus on juries.

No matter, many federal judges continue to oppose the sunshine citing the potential for tainted proceedings.

Some of their fears are understandable. State courts have allowed cameras for years and the O.J. trial has brought a specter hard to shake (Casey Anthony probably hasn't helped).

It is possible, however, that the O.J. imbroglio is serving as a smokescreen for judges who don't want their work overly scrutinized. On the plus side, maybe they don't all want to be Judge Judy.

Nonetheless, if protecting the right to a fair trial is at the heart of their objections, a trial balloon -- pun intended -- is inflating in the United Kingdom that deserves consideration.



Under the reported proposal, only a judge's sentencing orders and reasoning for them would be broadcast. So, witnesses would not being playing to the cameras and lawyers would not be auditioning for cameos on crime dramas.

It would allow viewers to "hear the sentence in the judge's own words with his explanation rather than perhaps the way it might be reported afterwards," said the U.K.'s justice secretary Ken Clarke.

Blocks on courtroom cameras are in place in England and Wales, though they don't extend to the U.K. Supreme Court, where cameras were allowed in two years ago. Sky News streams the high court's proceedings live on its Web site and says an average of 90,000 people a day tune in.

A Sky News executive has been aggressively lobbying U.K. public officials for widespread cameras in the courts. Self-serving? Guilty.

(Even if it couldn't air the testimony about syringes and injections, how ESPN would salivate at the chance to cover just the verdict in Roger Clemens' trial next year!)

Some of the renewed push for sentencing coverage at a minimum in the U.K. is an outgrowth of the recent riots that rocked Britain. Public anger seeking justice has spiked.

Yet, cameras in the court have been a hot topic in the U.K. for some time and justice secretary Clarke said it was a "coincidence" that the matter is percolating now; there's a general need to bring more "transparency" to how the wheels of justice turn.

"What we don't want is theater and we don't want to alter the behavior or the conduct of the trial," Clarke said. "We want to encourage people to have confidence in it."

In the U.S., with faith in two branches of government on a seeming inexorable decline, maybe some sunshine on the third one would inspire some confidence.

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