The Murder Trial : Entertainment or Education?

Posted: July 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

It was all so understated. No wigs, no bands, no grandstanding by the lawyers and yet it was still riveting. The Prosecutor did his job quietly, efficiently and oh so effectively. The Defence advocate provided us with an alternative suspect and cross examined him tenaciously in the hope of providing the jury with the reasonable doubt they needed to acquit.
But this was no courtroom drama in the traditional sense because the participants were real, as were the consequences. A man was on trial for the murder of his wife. There was no body so the evidence was circumstantial; but would it be enough to convict?
Despite the sober way in which this case was presented to us as an audience, there was still, to my mind, an element of voyeurism. This was put forward as an opportunity to witness the criminal courts in action but it was still edited in such a way as to provide entertainment and that felt wrong, somehow. The victim’s family were interviewed, their grief on show for us to watch. The daughter of both victim and the accused was asked about how she felt. It was clear she could not accept even the possibility of her father’s involvement in the death of her mother, and who could blame her?
Despite the claims that this was to educate and inform us, it was edited in such a way as to maximise its entertainment value. The question is whether or not that is acceptable.
There are moves afoot to televise trials in England. Again this is said to be for the sake of educating us about the legal system. But such programmes will require editing and that is where the problems may lie.
In the US there is sometimes live coverage but usually the material is edited so only the highlights are shown. There are interviews and commentaries which would not be permitted in this country due to the Contempt of Court Act. The question for us in the UK though is not so much how it would be done, but whether or not it should be done at all. Is it right to be ‘entertained’ by the plight of others? Are we just using education as a cover for our own prurience? These are the questions that need to be answered before trials appear on the television. Somehow I don’t think they will be.


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