The Great Portal of the Royal Courts of Justice on Strand may be familiar to millions as it has been providing the favoured backdrop for television news reporting on the courts for many years.
Recently, the viewing public had an opportunity to venture inside the RCJ and see a full hearing, when the Judiciary's YouTube channel hosted a live-stream from the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) sitting in Court 71.
This is another initiative in the Judiciary's court modernisation programme to take dispute resolution in England & Wales into the digital age.
The Judiciary fully recognises that online connectivity will bring about a rapid and deep change to the legal profession and the courts. Sir Terence Etherton sees this pilot scheme increasing public access to the Court of Appeal and awareness of how appeals are heard. It should also give insight into the proper conduct of adversarial litigation ahead of the online courts launch in 2020.
Our courts have an international reputation for expertise, objectivity and integrity, but there seems to be an ingrained misconception that the process does not vindicate people's legal rights or uncover the truth, but assists the powerful litigant who merely has the law on their side. This is a common depiction of court proceedings in legal fiction and other media.
Public confidence in a functioning civil justice system sustains the authority of the rule of law. The very fact that Master of the Rolls has decided to broadcast court proceedings from the Court of Appeal recognises there's a perception deficit regarding what happens upon interaction with this system of rules.
The live-stream master shot was shown as a split-screen, with all of the participants visible throughout, but not easily recognisable. This works in favour of the security concerns which some members of the Judiciary have expressed about transmitting court proceedings.
The sound balance, with dialogue being the principal means of keeping the online audience engaged, was excellent for counsel and for the Appellant, Mr Downes QC, but very uneven from the Bench.
The appeal against the Order of Mr Justice Norris refusing an application for court inspection of documents, over which the Respondents have asserted legal advice and litigation privilege, concerned the tenants of the London Stadium seeking to make the venue bigger on the inside.
Overall, despite the transmission going dead just before lunch, the live-stream should be viewed as a success. On the day, there were 80 views of the proceedings and at the time of writing the clip has been seen 3,455 times. The capacity of the largest public gallery in RCJ is only 150!