Everyone with a laptop and internet connection can follow the case of Derek Chauvin, the former policeman who has been charged with the murder of African-American George Floyd.
Everyone can see the witnesses testify live and the lawyers question them, and one camera is also trained on Chauvin himself, allowing people to look into his eyes.
Although the state of Minnesota doesn’t usually allow live-streaming of trials, Judge Peter Cahill granted access to Court TV for the Chauvin case due to the immense public interest, as well as COVID-19 restrictions.
“What cameras allow us to do is give people a window into the courtroom so they can see how the process works,” Court TV presenter Michael Ayala explained. “Perhaps in that way it will give them some confidence in the system.”
He’s absolutely right, and Malta should seriously analyse the way the US, the UK and some other countries allow court live-streaming with the aim of allowing cameras in for cases for major public interest.
As it stands, the public is 100% dependent on journalists who are present in the courtroom and who transmit real-time information through live blogs. However, while a lot of information does reach the public this way, the current system has its limitations.
It’s extremely difficult for a court journalist to relay literally everything that is said word for word, particularly when a witness is mumbling or when there’s a back-and-forth between the prosecution and defence, a lawyer and a witness, or between lawyers and a magistrate or judge. Of course, it’s often in these kind of exchanges that crucial information emerges.
Meanwhile, many media outlets not only have to transcribe the information but translate it on the spot.
If you miss something, you have no choice but to skip it and move on, which is why sometimes information can be found on one media portal’s live blog but not another.
When cases stretch on for long hours, it can be harder to keep up. If information or details emerge which every journalist present has missed (and this does happen), then it’s gone… the public won’t be able to view and scrutinise it.
Just as crucial an issue is that while a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth so much more.
Many court journalists try their best to capture these moments – when a witness gets caught out changing their version of events, when their body language screams of nervousness or when they’ve been left lost for words, when a police officer recounts horrendous scenes in great detail, when an eyewitness gets emotional when recounting what happened, when a murder suspect starts laughing silently in the dock or when a judge scolds a lawyer.
They’re left wishing the public can see what they’re seeing and try their best to portray it in text, while making sure they don’t miss out on fresh information, but they also know that you can’t truly do justice to the scene.
Critics of live-streaming will argue that it will sensationalise the justice system, that it will encourage lawyers and witnesses to speak to the cameras instead of to the judge, and that it could intimidate witnesses.
While they’re all fair points, they can all be mitigated by a magistrate or judge if they put their foot down when it’s clear people are playing for the cameras. They should not be used as excuses to constantly override the public interest of knowing exactly what’s going on in court.
In some cases, such as high-profile murders and serious cases where politicians (ie. representatives of the public) are involved, the public interest is immense.
And when this is the case, the courts should err on the side of transparency, just like they did with the likes of Derek Chauvin, Oscar Pistorius, and OJ Simpson.
Public inquiries, such as the one ongoing into the circumstances surrounding Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, are by their nature public and should be live-streamed too.
Technology has added a layer of transparency to Parliament, government, media, local councils and political parties. Now it’s time for the courts.
Do you think some court sittings should be live-streamed?