Lights, Camera, Justice!
The United States Supreme Court does not permit video recording. ‘The day you see a camera come into our courtroom,’ Justice David Souter said in 1996, ‘it’s going to roll over my dead body.’ The Supreme Court is not, he argued, ‘part of the entertainment industry’.
In a recent paper called Transforming Our Justice System, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice says that the justice system ‘should be competing … with every modern consumer experience’ that citizens ‘have in their lives’. Our institutions of justice are increasingly conflated with consumer products. Many court fees are set at a for-profit level, the idea being courts provide a valuable service and consumers should pay for it. The legal industry is assessed in terms of (and reformed with an eye on) the revenue it generates. Court buildings are no exception. The Supreme Court, for example, is available for private hire: a scene in Bridget Jones’s Baby was filmed there. A spokesperson explained that this was ‘part of a wider programme of generating income to ease pressure on the public purse’.
Supreme Court oral arguments are filmed and made available online; there are summaries of judgments on YouTube. Their contribution to the entertainment industry is, so far, unremarkable: only five of the Court’s YouTube clips have more than 10,000 views.