Court on Camera

Court on Camera

March 1, 2018 12:00 pm

Philip Stevens investigates the coverage of the highest appeal court in the land

November 2004 saw cameras allowed into an English courtroom for the first time. A sixweek experiment, funded jointly by the BBC, ITN and Sky News, saw Bow Tie Television install four robotic cameras in two rooms in Central London’s Court of Appeal. The footage recorded was never intended for the air, but was instead used to show how the content could be packaged in various ways to provide details of cases heard by the judges.

That experiment subsequently led to cameras being allowed into the Supreme Court, located opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Towards the end of 2017 Bow Tie, now part of NEP Media Solutions, was awarded the five-year contract for broadcast and audio-visual maintenance, plus managed services for the Supreme Court. “The nature of its operations and remit for transparency makes the provision of audio visual services a high profile and important feature of the court,” explains Duncan Davidson-Smith, managing director, NEP Bow Tie. “Its broadcast and audio-visual systems are intended to enable the Supreme Court to record and distribute high-quality footage from each of the courtrooms in several ways.”


High Profile Contracts

The company is well placed to deliver the hours of non-scripted output. As well as the Supreme Court, NEP Bow Tie is the current holder of the managed services contracts for the National Assembly for Wales, the vision, sound and AV operation and maintenance contract of UK Parliament, and the broadcasting and AV managed services contractor for the Greater London Authority in addition to a number of prestigious corporate bodies and government departments.

“We pride ourselves on delivering broadcast quality coverage of proceedings by the best directors, operators, technicians and engineers in the industry and feel this is why the Supreme Court has chosen to work with the team at NEP Bow Tie,” explains Davidson-Smith. “Of course, we are all security cleared and are well used to working in secure environments.”

He continues: “We are contracted to provide a whole range of services. Alongside the coverage of the live proceedings in all three courts, we handle content capture, transcoding of files, post production for the web versions of the output and are responsible for sending footage to the National Archive.”

The live coverage is made available to the major broadcasters for their use as part of programming requirements. In addition, there is a live stream available through the Supreme Court’s own website. Complementing that service is an on-demand archive of past hearings that enables lawyers and anyone interested in the workings of the highest court in the land to review hearings of cases over the preceding 12 months.

Generally speaking, only two courts are in session at any one time. Control of the live coverage is from one long gallery equipped with three similar operational areas. Two of the positions have Panasonic AV-HS400 AE vision mixers, while the third is equipped with a Blackmagic Design ATEM Studio 4K switcher. “The Blackmagic mixer was selected because of its Skype for Business capability,” says Davidson-Smith. “In the first few days of our contract, we used that facility to allow an advocate based in the Caribbean to be part of the proceedings in the Supreme Court.

“This was the first time that such a link up has been created. “It is an exciting addition to the operation and saves the expense of flying legal professionals to London. The remote advocate can be seen on a monitor in the courtroom and can be cut up as a source to the output.”

Intelligent Sound

“Audio is handled by Yamaha LS9 consoles, but behind them – and this is quite clever – is a Polycom SoundStructure C16,” Davidson-Smith continues. “What that does is provide auto-gating. The microphone levels are set up using the faders on the desk and left open, as it were, and then there is the software managed by MX. The sound is automatically switched according to audio levels. Obviously, if someone coughs, the fader has to be operated. So, the broadcast feed is auto-gated, with manual intervention, if necessary.”

This set up means that sound for the public speakers in the courtrooms can be handled at the same time as the broadcast audio output.