TV trial gives clear picture of the future

Fascinating though many viewers, both legal and lay, are finding the BBC's 'The Trial', has it brought us any further down the road in the argument about whether TV cameras should be allowed in court?

Besides the interest that derived from viewers actually looking into courtrooms for the first time and seeing things "in reality", rather than fictionalised, 'The Trial' is bringing home the essential elements of what happens in a court. Educationally, the series must be regarded as a success.

Participation was voluntary and gaining assent from all involved put a heavy constraint on the programme makers. This consideration could hamper the spread of TV coverage of courts.

The condition imposed by the Scottish courts that programmes could only be shown after the case and any appeals shows how far away we still are from the US court TV experience, where viewers watch cases in "real time". This is one possible approach, but how can the safeguards we consider necessary for a fair trial be built-in?

The BBC's series is almost at the opposite extreme. Its approach comprises a highly edited and editorialised version of events, with a lot of non-court related material included.

Clearly, if TV in our courts is to move forward, legal constraints will need to be eased. But it is also a matter of how programme makers go about their business. An approach which is less editorialised and less external to the courts should be possible. All the evidence needed for the jury to understand each case is there. Should that not be enough for TV audiences?

But having broken through the no-entry barrier programme makers and lawyers should not let matters rest. There has to be a way to enable the courts to be opened up. 'The Trial' has provided the motivation, an acceptable method must now be found.