Watching Court (Myanmar/Burma)

According to Eleven news, Thura Aung Ko, chairman of the Pyithu Hluttaw’s Legislative and Judicial Affairs Committee, is preparing to submit a bill that would open courts to video and audio monitoring. The move is designed to allow media to report more effectively on trials and combat corruption. As noted before on Rule by Hukum, Stefan Voigt’s research suggests that the quality of media supervision over the judiciary does indeed reduce judicial corruption. The bill could also increase public trust in the judiciary if it appears most cases are not decided on corrupt grounds.

There are of course concerns whenever cameras are introduced into the courtroom. First, there might be legitimate concerns with exposing court trials to the public, such as the risk that classified or privileged information might be revealed. Knowing Burmese law, it seems safe to say that there will be an exception for “public safety” or “public order” that can accommodate these exceptions.

Second, there is a risk that judges will “play to the camera.” To some extent, this might just make judges more flamboyant or dramatic (think of Judge Judy on American television). However, there is also a risk that, if cameras are used to grade judges in the court of public opinion, judges will feel compelled to respond to popular criticism in their handling of cases. Benjamin Liebman has noted that Chinese judges have become very susceptible to public opinion especially because the Communist Party grades judges on how well they manage to keep the peace within their jurisdiction. As such, if this bill passes, it will be important to explain what impact, if any, public perceptions will have on judicial promotions and tenure.

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