A bill now before the U.K. House of Lords would remove the right to be present at a hearing for certain matters consequent upon being charged with an offence. Amendments to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 proposed in the Coroners and Justice Bill 2008-09 [PDF] (Part 3, Chapter 4: Live Links – p.56) would allow authorities in a number of London and North Kent police stations to determine that an accused should appear before a bail court, or for trial of minor offences, via a live video link to a remote courtroom. (See the story in the Times.) The aim is efficiency and cost-cutting, removing the need for transportation of prisoners to and from courtrooms. Indeed, earlier experimental implementations of these practices suggest that they could speed up the initial process of criminal justice quite considerably. The Times has a graphic [PDF] that sets out the ideal schedule of events in a clear fashion.
As might be expected, there has been opposition to the proposals from some lawyers, including Paul Marsh, President of the Law Society, and from some magistrates as well.
It may be that we will also choose at some point to enable or require appearance by video, but if so, we should be clear, I think, that there is a substantial difference between TV and reality, and should not pretend that they are simply fungible. The medium's message, as McLuhan might have pointed out, is different in each case: TV is "cool," to use his term, whereas a real presence is "hot." There could be a tendency in policy makers, perhaps, to let themselves see legal process as "cool," rational — a matter of facts — and, so, accommodating of, even appropriate for, the distancing that video engenders. This would be a mistaken view, in my opinion.
How do others feel?