How Supreme Court Live works

18 May 2011 by

This week the Sky News website began broadcasting UK Supreme Court hearings live. I have been talking up this idea for a while, and in my view the new service marks an important moment for access to justice.

In its first few days, Supreme Court Live has been showing an insurance case which has been, shall we say, a little difficult to follow (of course it would have been much more difficult to follow but for the excellent advocacy on display…) But the service works well and the footage is of high quality by current standards.

Whilst watching the case my mind wandered to the nuts and bolts of the arrangement between Sky and the court, and whether there are plans to expand the service in the future. I asked the Supreme Court, and this is what they said.

On whether it would be possible for users to download footage as well as watching it live, sadly there are “no current plans to enable users to download from an archive or watch particular parts.” That said, existing services will remain in place: “DVD copies of cases and judgments available to educational establishments on request, as we always have done.” And the new arrangement “in no way affects the ability of all mainstream broadcasters to access footage via the broadcast quality live stream or from our archive on request.”

And, perhaps more importantly “Sky has paid for all the technological equipment to make streaming possible, and are simply using the broadcast-quality feed we have always offered to broadcasters“. cost development is “cost-neutral to the Court, and hence the taxpayer“. That was my suspicion; that Sky is paying for the service in return for it being hosted on their website. Hopefully, enough people will tune in so that the service remains commercially viable. But it cannot cost too much to maintain once set up.

As to the future, “there may be service developments over time depending on the interest shown in terms of user numbers“. The fact remains that this kind of enhanced service would “require greater server space and a more sophisticated (and less automated) system of packaging up each case, which in turn would add to the resource implications.” At the moment, Sky have handled the technical side, so it sounds like specific features of the site are to an extent up to them.

Some people have wondered whether the footage is truly live. It isn’t: there is around a 1 minute delay “due to the time taken for coding and encoding the signal, as with all such streaming over the internet.” Of course, the Court does “reserve the right not to show hearings or parts of hearings where the circumstances dictate (e.g. in some family cases involving children).” However, with only a one minute delay, it sounds unlikely that streaming will be stopped if a case suddenly slips into sensitive evidence; the delay probably isn’t long enough.

Now that the service is up and running, the public need to realise it is available and start watching. I do think that for the footage to be engaged with creatively some kind of download function needs to be added in future. This will not be too hard to arrange, but given that Sky are footing the bill, any future services will depend to an extent on the service’s popularity. The insurance case ends this week, to be replaced by one about international child abduction. Time to tune in.

Update – it turns out that the court will not be screening the child abduction case (mentioned in the final para) next week due to privacy issues. It will, however, be screening the equally interesting Gale and another v SOCA.

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1 comment;

  1. Sabine Kurjo says:

    Family cases involving children, once again!!!??? Whose details are published in ads for adoption by the Daily Mirror and other periodicals???

    And international child abduction is excluded straight away. So much for transparency!

    When will other courts follow suit???

    Still, well done, Sky, in the absence of a governmental initiative…

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