Written by • Published 11th April 2014 • 3 minute read

The PHA Group: Oscar Pistorius

Hearing Oscar Pistorius wailing and sobbing in the televised coverage of the Reeva Steenkamp murder trial has been an experience which has been hard to take in.

It is not because I feel sorry for him, far from it.

But this shocking display of raw emotion – whether his tears are of self-pity, genuine remorse or grief – is so alien to British TV audiences.

The detail from the trial is disturbing enough, particularly when Pistorius was asked to look at the pictures of his dead girlfriend, her head left in an unimaginably horrific state by one of the four hollowed-out bullets blasted into her from the other side of a door.

Pistorius crying to the prosecutor and court that he didn’t need to see it as “he was there” is one of the most disturbing scenes I have seen on TV recently.

The trial doesn’t show the blade running Olympian’s face at any point, nor does it show any witnesses.

Instead, we are left with shots of prosecutors and defence counsel, as well as graphics and “breaking news” panels at the bottom of the screen which bring us up to speed with the latest key evidence.

 

The BBC News channel and Sky News have been rolling out news from the trial in South Africa for days now. It is, for many, compelling viewing.

Whether court trials should be shown in the UK is a question that is often debated. But the Oscar Pistorius coverage has shown yet again that it would be totally wrong to introduce cameras into our criminal courts now, if ever.

To be clear, there is a pilot taking place of cameras in courts in England and Wales. This is taking place in the Court of Appeal (both the civil and criminal divisions) and started in October 2013.

The Guardian said this of the move: “Decades of judicial suspicion of British courts being open to cameras are giving way to carefully controlled filming.”

Some said it was a development which would only damage justice.

The historic first broadcast had a twist – the UK Prime Minister’s brother became the first barrister to be shown arguing a case in the Court of Appeal.

Alexander Cameron QC was applying to have his client’s sentence reduced, but his request was rejected by judges.

I presume that the forum of the Court of Appeal was chosen as hearings are far more rooted in law, procedure and detail. Hearings can be emotional, no doubt, particularly if it involves a lengthy and wrongful conviction.

But the raw detail of a murder trial like the Pistorius would be a rarity.

Imagine the scenes on our TV if cameras were allowed into the Old Bailey.

We Brits are superb at trial by media, even when the trial is abroad. Rolling TV coverage cannot fail to spark debate, but is this necessary?

In the UK, defendants are tried by 12 of their peers and sentenced, if found guilty by a judge.

We are fortunate that reporters are free to report cases (except those on which there are restrictions) in the UK. This has progressed beyond newspapers to social media.

The number one spot in a recent poll of the top 50 journalists on twitter was occupied by someone who has been tweeting every day from the phone hacking trial.

But TV cameras intrude on and bring to life trials much more than print can.

True, you can choose to watch or not. But allowing them is a huge step in relation to what we are exposed to, and how.

And as with the OJ Simpson trial in the US in the 1990s, the Pistorius trial now, however gripping, shows that while justice must be seen to be done, that shouldn’t be live and beamed on a flat-screen for us all to watch.