Monday, 9 January 2017

Televising of Megrahi appeal

[What follows is the text of a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2002:]

The decision to allow the BBC to televise the Lockerbie bomber's appeal has been hailed as an "important step" by a Scottish legal expert.

However, Professor Jim Murdoch, of Glasgow University's law department, said the decision by Scotland's lord justice general should not be viewed as setting a precedent for the future.

Lord Cullen granted an application by the BBC to broadcast and provide an internet stream of the appeal proceedings, which are due to begin at Camp Zeist, near Utrecht, Holland, on 23 January.

Prof Murdoch said the decision was a crucial one for broadcasters in reinforcing the role of the media as a "watchdog" but he stressed that Scotland was still a long way from seeing the routine televising of trials.

He told BBC News Online: "This is an important step, but one which should not be seen necessarily as establishing a new precedent.

"We are - thankfully - still a great distance removed from American practice which readily allows the broadcasting of trials."

The focus on ensuring justice, he said, had rightly led to a refusal to allow broadcasting of the trial of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and his then co-accused Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who was acquitted.

However, the appeal circumstances would be different as there would be no witnesses giving evidence.

Prof Murdoch said: "The Scottish legal system rightly places the fair administration of justice as of paramount concern and the court's refusal to allow the broadcasting of the trial proceedings was understandable.

"There would have been real concerns whether witnesses giving evidence could have been affected by the knowledge that their words would have been broadcast around the globe; further the legal system recognises that witnesses in trials may often require to be protected against the possibility of identification.

"The broadcasting of appeal proceedings concerning legal argument does not give rise to such concerns, and the watchdog role of the media in helping scrutinise the administration of justice can thus be more readily acknowledged."

Prof Murdoch said the broadcast of the appeal proceedings on television and the internet would assist people around the world in giving their own judgements on the trial.

"The decision will allow a much wider audience more easily to observe the appeal court's determination of whether the trial court's conviction was a safe one," he said.

[RB: I had earlier argued against the televising of the trial proceedings: see Head to head: Cameras in court. I had no objections to the televising of the appeal. However, as I wrote later: “The [appeal] proceedings (except when the evidence of witnesses was being heard) were televised live over the internet on a website maintained by the BBC, the first occasion in Scotland (or elsewhere in the United Kingdom) that live public broadcasting of judicial proceedings has been permitted. The consensus of opinion was that the administration of justice was not impaired by the presence of the television cameras, but that the level of excitement and drama was such that there is unlikely to be much clamour in the foreseeable future from either broadcasters or the viewing public for the experiment to be repeated.”]

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