Lights, Camera, Action: Court Interpreters and Cameras in the Courtroom?

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The coalition    government has today announced the possibility of allowing television cameras to film in Crown Courts. In a supposed move towards greater transparency in the justice system, ministers say that they hope that judges could be filmed delivering verdicts and sentences. Downing Street has indicated that allowing filming in the Court of Appeal, from October, is being seen as merely a preliminary step. Broadcasters will be given the right to film counsel and judges in appeal cases.

Ministers hope to extend filming to crown court cases. But broadcasters would only be allowed to film the judge during the delivery of the verdict and during sentencing. Defendants, witnesses and counsel on both sides would not be filmed. At the moment, current plans do not represent an added burden for court interpreters. As witnesses will be excluded from filming, interpreters will be as well.

However, this is not necessarily the case across the United Kingdom. Channel 4 will broadcast a documentary on 9 July about a notorious Scottish murder trial which includes scenes filmed in the High Court in Edinburgh. It is not the first time a Scottish trial has been televised, but it suggests, because consent had to be obtained from witnesses after their appearance, that the public is gradually becoming accustomed to the idea of cameras in courtrooms. The televised case involves the murder of Arlene Fraser, a 33-year-old mother of two, who vanished without trace from her home in New Elgin, Moray, on 28 April 1998.

The filming of witnesses for the Nat Fraser retrial opens up the possibility of filming court interpreters across the border. While we understand that no court interpreters were required at this retrial, it is surely only a matter of time, should witnesses consent and require a court interpreter, before interpreters themselves are asked to appear on camera.

However, there are no such proposals for England and Wales. Indeed, the government’s current plans to extend filming to Crown Courts will likely face substantial opposition from the judiciary. Lord Judge, the outgoing Lord Chief Justice, said in January that he supported the principle of allowing cameras into court, but he drew a line at the filming of sentencing.

In his last appearance before the House of Lords constitution committee, he said: “I’m perfectly happy with cameras coming into court, provided their presence doesn’t increase the risk that justice won’t be done. [But] I’m very troubled about having cameras just swanning around the court.” On sentencing, he added: “Not sentencing, I take a very strong view about sentencing.” Judge cited difficulties in New Zealand. “Everybody thought that if you fixed the camera on the judge then it would be all right, but of course people can demonstrate during the sentencing remarks, so there are cheers and boos. We have to be very careful how it works.”

It will certainly be difficult to achieve an appropriate balance between preserving the integrity of the judicial process and the wider public interest in open access. Whatever the outcome, court interpreters should study these developments carefully.

Sources used include the Guardian and the Lawyer online. The rather humorous cartoon comes courtesy of the Daily Mail.

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With over twenty five years’ experience providing court and legal interpreting services, TJC Global can assist you in all manner of court interpreting. Interpreting in court during a trial is, in many cases, vital for the just application of the law, and interpreters used by the court are increasingly important in all forms of court setting.  At times the accessibility of the law is made difficult by language barriers between parties, and legal protocol can only be followed by employing court interpreters. If such difficulties arise, TJC Global’s qualified and experienced legal interpretation service can handle the correspondence and communications inherent to all types of law, from property, contract and international disputes in courts across the world.

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