Electronic media will change courtroom behaviour, but not necessarily in the way most people assume.
With the judgment this week in the Oscar Pistorius trial, the idea of opening up the court process to mass media is back in the public eye.
(It also raised questions about whether criminal trials should be heard by a jury that does not give its reasons or judge who does – but that is for cleverer minds.)
Can matters that are dealt with in the public gaze be dealt with fairly, or is there a risk that the involvement of TV or social media will prejudice cases?
Clearing the ‘blade runner’ and former hero of the 2012 London Olympic Games, of premeditated murder, Judge Thokozile Masipa said she could not rely on the evidence of the witnesses who had got their facts from the media and followed the trial on the news.
With moves in this country to open up the criminal trial process as well as the family courts to greater public scrutiny, are the courts, judges, media and public ready, and what impact could these moves have on the performance of advocates?
The two advocates in the Pistorius case got much attention for their strong style and delivery. Would the prospect of a wider audience change the way barristers here present cases?
An example closer to home, suggests it would – but perhaps not in the way that is generally assumed.
It came during the two-day hearing this week of the judicial review brought by criminal solicitors of the lord chancellor’s legal aid reforms. As the hearing was, alas, not such a big media event as an Olympic athlete's murder trial, it was scrutiny via the Twittersphere rather than the TV lens that was the issue.
At the start of the hearing, Mr Justice Burnett agreed to an application allowing the claimants and their supporters to tweet from the court. James Eadie QC, counsel for the lord chancellor, revealed that the knowledge that his words would be relayed instantly to a virtual audience had an impact on what he said.
At one stage during the hearing, he told the court he had been about to use a somewhat derogatory expression – ‘tame poodles’ – but had changed his mind. (Of course, merely by saying that, he let the cat out of the bag to leap around in cyberspace.)
Twitter did not affect only the advocate. The judge was particularly exercised by claimants’ allegations about the behaviour of the lord chancellor because they were instantly transmitted from the court via Twitter.
Tweeting from court or televising the process does seem the natural 21st-century extension of the public gallery, but it both must be done with care.
Catherine Baksi is a Gazette reporter