TV Cameras to Be Allowed in German Courtrooms?

von Peter Bert

The Federal Ministry of Justice has put forward a proposal that would allow TV cameras into German courtrooms. But before you get all the excited about the prospect of bringing Court TV to Germany, look at the small print: the proposal would allow cameras only into the highest courts of the five branches of the judiciary in Germany*. And the TV cameras would be allowed to roll only when the presiding judge delivers a judgment, but not during a hearing. So what you would see on TV would just be five judges on the bench, with one of them reading a – no doubt well-reasoned – judgment. That’s as exiting as will it get, if the proposal is implemented.

The proposal is based on a recommendation that the Conference of the State Ministers of Justice (Justizministerkonferenz) made last year, and is now progressing towards a draft bill. The very limited scope of this proposal notwithstanding, there appears to be resistance from the judiciary across all the five courts.

The presidents of all five courts are opposing the idea, Bettina Limperg, the (first female) President of the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof) said at an event in Berlin recently. Rightly or wrongly, the judges apparently see this modest proposal as the beginning of a slippery slope towards full TV access to court proceedings. In a letter to the ministry, they argued that the authority of the courts would be undermined if the video clip of a gaffe by a judge ended up in a comedy show or on YouTube.

Last week, Andreas Mosbacher, a judge at the Federal Supreme Court, published a commentary on Legal Tribune Online supporting the reforms, in which he comprehensively dismissed the arguments put forward by the presidents.

Given the usual judicial self-constraint, the commentary is rather outspoken: Mosbacher concedes that a judge who gets things wrong might be ridiculed on YouTube ...

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