The UK Supreme Court: the legal-eagle’s Netflix?

When I was in America last year, I officially joined the masses by signing up for a Netflix account. The streaming service enables me to watch television programmes whenever and wherever I desire, and not have to worry about buying boxsets. The ease of access and promise of unlimited entertainment means Netflix remains vastly popular.

Would you be amazed to know that the above statement regarding access and entertainment can now apparently be applied to the UK Supreme Court?

I came across an interesting article yesterday, pertaining to the UK Supreme Court and its online platform. As I found the article to be both surprising and also of potential interest for law students, I decided to write about the news myself.

The UK Supreme Court’s website is very informative, and provides among other things an on-demand service. Yes, the website provides the opportunity to watch hearings before the Supreme Court via its video archive. This on-demand service provides coverage of cases which are currently before the court, as well as cases which have been decided. This video on-demand service was launched in May 2015, and so is still rather new. This service was launched to compliment the existing live-streaming service also provided by the UK Supreme Court website. This live-streaming service was launched in 2011, and due to its success paved the foundations for the on-demand service to be established.

Essentially, given that court proceedings, most especially court proceedings from the Supreme Court are not featured on live television in the UK (unlike the US) this is the closest the general public can come to gaining an insight into court proceedings, and legal deliberations of the utmost constitutional and public importance and interest.

How the service works: footage of the proceedings in the Supreme Court is freely available to access via each case’s page on the Supreme Court website, and will be uploaded the next working day. Once judgment is delivered, footage of the Justices’ summary in court will then also be published alongside the full judgment text ,and press summary. Thus all bases are covered, so to speak. You can access case summaries prior to watching the footage, and upon judgment being delivered, then have access to the transcripts. It is a very informative, and indeed innovative experience.

In addition, the archives attempt to ensure case footage remains accessible for as long as possible. Footage of case hearings remains available for approximately one year after the court hearing, before being removed to make way for new cases. The website notes that for copyright reasons, users of this service will not be able to download the footage for long term storage or editing purposes.

Then came the news yesterday: the on-demand service has proven an unlikely hit with the general public. In the six months since the Supreme Court opened its video archive to the general public, the footage has been accessed an average of 10,000 times a month. Moreover, the live stream service is accessed almost 20,000 times a month. On an average sitting day, approximately 550 people will access the live stream service at some point during proceedings. To place this figure into perspective, this is more than seven times the seating capacity of the Supreme Court’s largest courtroom.

Evidently, it could be argued that there is indeed a case to be made for the public interest factor of the Supreme Court proceedings. I know as both a law student and one who is interested in Public and Constitutional law matters that I welcome the opportunity to see the UK Supreme Court in action.

As Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court said, this illustrates the public desire to see open and transparent justice which reinforces public support for the Court:

“These figures demonstrate considerable appetite among the British public for seeing their top court at work, and that can only be a positive sign. Justice being done openly, so that it can be watched by anyone who wants to see judges at work, is vitally important for public confidence in the judiciary.”

Seeing that the Supreme Court had expressed a hope that the on-demand service, in conjunction with the live-streaming service would be utilised as an unique educational tool, given the viewing figures, I feel this aim may be soon be realised.

Should you be interested, these are the top three cases watched via the Supreme Court’s on-demand services:

1. ParkingEye Limited v Beavis and Cavendish Square Holding BV v Talal El Makdessi 
3,853 viewers
Mr Barry Beavis, chip-shop owner, wanted to overturn an £85 fine issued by ParkingEye after he overstayed the limit, and pursued this to the highest court. He ultimately failed to convince the Supreme Court justices that the penalty issued had been ‘unfair and disproportionate’.

2. R v Jogee and Ruddock v The Queen
3,592 viewers
Ameen Jogee was convicted of murder under the doctrine of ‘joint enterprise’ after he encouraged his friend Mohammed Hirsi to stab a former police officer. His lawyers asked the Supreme Court to consider whether the standard of proof required should change. A judgment is currently pending.

3. Gohil v Gohil & Sharland v Sharland
2,546 viewers

Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil claimed their ex-husbands concealed their wealth during their divorces. The Supreme Court ruled in their favour, and sent their claims back to the High Court. This result was deemed controversial, leading to warnings that a flood of new cases would result as other divorced couples sought to revisit their settlements.

Perhaps the UK Supreme Court could become the new legal-eagle Netflix after all. Watch this space.

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