Move over Netflix, live-streamed divorce cases will be the entertainment of the future – at least in the United Kingdom.
Just last month, the UK Ministry of Justice announced that family law hearings at the Court of Appeal (the second highest court) will be live-streamed to increase transparency and boost public confidence in the justice system.
Real Life Courtroom Drama
According to reports out of the UK, the live-stream will focus on high-profile cases and spats involving the rich and famous. This may mean that we may see more of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the future – you may remember his name from when his custody dispute hit the front pages all over the world with allegations of kidnapping and imprisonment.
The streaming program, which should go live later this year, will only stream a small number of cases and parties of cases nominated for coverage will have the opportunity to object. It’s unclear what objections will be permitted and if an objection means the case will not be streamed however.
This program may end up reducing the caseload for the Court of Appeal since cases will be streamed on Youtube, Facebook, and even Twitter. Given how vicious the court of public opinion can be on social media, streaming law cases may incentivize settlements in many contentious cases where one or both spouses want to maintain privacy.
It’s worth noting that this is not the first court streaming program in the UK. The Supreme Court already streams cases and the Court of Appeal has streamed some civil disputes since 2018.
Live Streaming Coming to the US?
You may find it surprising to know that all across the county, many states allow for the recording and live streaming of cases. One of the early trials to hit the mainstream people may remember was O.J. Simpson’s murder trial back in 1994. Trials are common enough that Court TV has been around since the 90’s and even has a Canadian spinoff. And these are real court proceedings, not made-for-tv proceedings like People’s Court or Judge Judy.
Right now, an overwhelming majority of cases streamed or otherwise video recorded in the US are high-profile criminal matters or state Supreme Court hearings. The U.S. Supreme Court has been one the lone holdouts on technology in the courtroom. Currently the closest you can get to livestreaming is watching SCOTUSblog live tweet and listen to the recording after the fact.
Covid-19 may be the push many courts and judges need to consider live streaming or recording hearings. As more and more states shut down courthouses and issue stay-at-home orders, judges, including in El Paso County, are looking at streaming technology to keep the judicial system moving as much as possible (if only to prevent a huge backlog when the pandemic is over). It’s possible that as courts become more familiar with technology, it will become more prevalent in future cases.
That said, as much as we’d like to livestream divorce cases to get to the bottom of Adele’s divorce settlement, it does not seem likely that family law cases will be livestreamed in the US any time soon.
While most court cases are open to the public, many judges do not think that means open to the world. With live streaming, judges would lose the ability to enforce decorum or control those watching since they are not in the courtroom. Plus family law cases often involve minor children, which presents extra privacy concerns for the court.