Cameras in court
Just about every day in Utah, judges and juries, attorneys and witnesses, are doing the work of our system of justice. They do so on your dime, and in your name.
A greater opportunity for the people to see what is going on in those courtrooms, making use of modern technology without compromising traditional decorum, has now been worked out by interested parties and given preliminary approval by the Utah Judicial Council. It is a sound plan that will help the public understand how their courts work and help the courts gain that public's confidence.
It has been a long time coming. More than 60 years after television became part of daily life, more than 30 years after C-SPAN brought TV cameras into Congress, there has remained among many jurists a feeling that television coverage would somehow be beneath the dignity of the judiciary.
There are sincere concerns that television cameras would disrupt proceedings, encourage flamboyant lawyers to play to the TV audience, intimidate witnesses or make people reluctant to serve on juries. But those concerns do not overcome the right, the need, of the public to look over the shoulder of the system and see if all is running properly.
Today's television cameras are smaller and require much less supporting technology or lighting. Thus they are much easier to incorporate into a courtroom without calling attention to themselves. And the adoption of televised proceedings in other states has shown that, properly managed, trials can proceed unimpeded and that those involved are less in awe than they might have been a generation ago.
Judges would, and should, retain authority to limit television coverage when, for example, there is reason to fear that a particular witness is in danger. And rules should utterly prohibit anyone from identifying members of any jury.
Still to be worked out are details on the use of yet more modern gizmos, particularly smart phones with built-in video capacity. Such devices rightly give judges pause because they can be operated in stealth, by individuals who don't work for established news outlets and thus aren't interested in keeping the court's favor for the next case they will want to cover.
Whatever rules come out of the process, the point here is not media web traffic or morbid curiosity. The point is to demystify the way our courts operate.
When those courts function properly, they deserve to be seen and win the public's faith. When they do not function properly, the public needs to see that, too, and to do its duty by demanding improvements in a system that has no longer been kept a secret from them.
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