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The significance of improved access to legal proceedings

by Heat Recruitment

This month, West Ham United FC made the headlines in legal news when The Court of Appeal Civil Division announced its decision to live-stream its first hearing. The case to be heard was an ongoing dispute between the football club and its London landlord over the number of fans that should be allowed into the stadium during home fixtures.

Unfortunately for the public, the case was soon settled outside of the High Court as the two parties confirmed an agreement has been reached towards the London Stadium’s capacity going up to 66,000. It’s good news for Hammers and a welcome result for both tenant and landlord who effectively saved themselves millions in court fees.

However, as the very first case to be live-streamed on the judiciary’s YouTube channel, it isn’t surprising that more than a few law students will be disappointed to hear of the outcome. Meanwhile, West Ham fans expecting a courtroom version of their 8-0 defeat against Macclesfield this year will have to rely on their football team for entertainment.

Regardless, the decision to live-stream the hearing and other selected represents a positive shift in line with cultural change as it came as part of a wider initiative to improve public access to and understanding of proceedings at the UK’s second highest court.

Commenting on the now settled case, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, said: “It’s revolutionary. I am so excited about it because I think it’s exactly what we’re trying to do here: we all believe in open justice and the effect of transparency to enable the public to have confidence in what we’re doing.”

He continued: “This is an exciting way of opening up our courts to help the public understand and see for themselves the way that courts work, and how appeals are heard.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time live-streaming has entered the legal profession. In fact, live-streaming of court proceedings is already a well-accepted practice in the UK Supreme Court, and Sky News now broadcasts live footage of UK Supreme Court proceedings on their website. In its first three months of operation, this stream was viewed approximately 139,000 times by 73,000 unique monthly users. According to data from the UK Supreme Court, around 20,000 viewers tune in daily.

These figures demonstrate rising interest among the British public to better understand how the justice system works; it shows a growing appetite in witnessing court proceedings taking place – whether that’s a controversial criminal case or a contractual dispute between businesses and individuals, such as the most popular “episode” in which Barry Beavis, an Essex chip shop owner who took his fight to overturn an £85 parking fine all the way to the top of the judiciary.

Now, thanks to advances in technology, it is possible for Courts to undertake proceedings openly and share them in the digital sphere. While the Court of Appeal is yet to have its pilot, it won’t be long before another case is selected to be the first in a series of live-streamed proceedings. By opening up the work of the court to a mass audience, the hope is that public confidence in the justice system will improve. Time can only tell, but the decision to live-stream a heated legal dispute to promote interest and educate the public is certainly a step in the right direction.

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by Dan Hazzard