Justice for the cameras
Today Rebekah Brooks, her husband and various of their staff were charged with offences related to the investigation of phone hacking. Fair enough. I don’t know whether they’re guilty and it would be quite wrong (not to mention, I believe, illegal) for me to speculate on the likely outcome of any trial. What bothers me is that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to announce their decision via the medium of a live press conference.
I’ve blogged about this disturbing new trend before. When Chris Huhne and his (ex) wife were charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice over a speeding offence they too were subjected to the spectacle of their prosecutors reading out their charge-sheets from behind a podium, in front of the waiting cameras. In the world of Twitter and social networking, such judicial theatrics result in a torrent of comment, jokes and chatter. They provoke the very contempt of court that can result in mistrials and miscarriages of justice.
I can understand the public servants of the CPS wanting their moment in the sun. After all, even coppers sometimes get to do the whole ‘press conference’ thing and get their mugs on the telly. But it is quite wrong to allow this kind of showmanship to become a part of our process of justice. Mr. and Mrs. Brooks are not yet guilty of anything. No-one has established, yet, their deservedness of public opprobrium. And yet they have been thrown to the court of commentary and of under-informed speculation in order to serve the attention-seeking of their prosecutors.
This degradation of sacred justice will get only worse if we allow cameras into courtrooms. No longer will the job of the court be purely to ascertain guilt; it will, slowly but surely, begin to seek to entertain. Lawyers and judges, as vain as the rest of us, will start to imitate their fictional, televisual counterparts – always with one eye on the audience at home. Justice should be done in the interests of itself, not in the interests of 24-hour news channels.