The system passed its first high profile test when it broadcast the judicial review of the prorogation of Parliament last summer; images that were seen by 4.5m people at its peak and an audience of 10m people across the day.
The Supreme Court is the highest and final court of appeal for all United Kingdom civil cases, and criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Formed in October 2009, it replaced the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords as the highest court in the UK. It has heard over 835 appeals and hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance. The building is located on Parliament Square, just opposite the Houses of Parliament.
“As the highest court in the land, any decision here is binding and final,” explains Brian Shek, Senior System Administrator & Commercial Officer at the Supreme Court.
The policy of the court is to record and broadcast hearings, in keeping with their commitment to transparency. Since its creation, all cases have been archived on their website ensuring fair and open access to all. “The reason we added live streaming and media coverage is because the justices wanted the court to be fully accessible to all members of the public,” adds Brian. “We wanted a long-term relationship, and with Panasonic we know that we’d get that.”
The appeal of Panasonic
Three court rooms at the Westminster location were each equipped with four Panasonic HN130s, a RP150 camera controller and NewTek Tricaster to efficiently record the high-profile cases.
“We need PTZs because it’s not practical in a court room to have an operator manually controlling the cameras,” explains Dan Money, a technical architect and IT Manager at the Supreme Court. “You need a constant shot of the Justices bench, a back and front shot, and both a wide and close up shot to gain an understanding of what is going on in the court.”
“PTZs are the least intrusive option that guarantees transparency in the courtroom but they also give the camera operator the right level of control and ensure shots of high production value,” highlights Dan.
The Supreme Court installed PTZ cameras as part of their initial set up in 2009, but were in need of an upgrade that could enable them to achieve better quality recordings. “Our first requirement was updating the camera output from SD to HD,” explains Dan. “The IT team wanted to implement a system that could do everything the original system could, but make the overall image quality look better with an intuitive system that we could understand.”
For the upgrade, the IT team at the court required NDI-based PTZ camera technology. They wanted to use their own technical networking expertise to maintain the system themselves. The team were able to take the NDI IP connection from the Panasonic PTZ camera and convert it to fibre using existing runs in the building. From there, the stream was converted back to IP and into a NewTek Tricaster.
“We are also planning to have the audio from all court rooms also over NDI in the future so that we can have networked video and audio over the existing building infrastructure. Being IP-based has made camera technology far more straightforward for individuals like ourselves to get to grips with providing a professional video output,” explains Dan.
The communications team also wanted a HD output to enable the hosting of any events. The Supreme Courts broadcast contractor were engaged to support the Supreme Court with their broadcast operation needs and provide audio/visual engineers to operate the equipment.
The first big test of the system was the high-profile Brexit prorogation-related judicial review. The case of R (Miller) v The Prime Minister investigated the decision to prorogue parliament in September 2019. “We had originally planned to sign off the system during the recess period over the summer months – however, the case was scheduled two weeks before the system was scheduled to be implemented meaning that we had to push the project forward and deliver early to stream this case,” explains Dan.
To deliver the streaming services, the team used Microsoft’s Azure Media Services platform. “This is what prompted us to implement the NDI architecture in the first place as the NewTek Tricaster is on their recommended equipment list. We had to work with the lead developer of Azure Media Services to tailor the platform to our requirements to run a 1080p network-based stream on the platform,” explains Dan.
“We were very pleased with the feedback received on the picture quality, not only from those around the courts but also from feedback on the stream and the broadcasters too!”
The R (Miller) v The Prime Minister case attracted widespread media interest and news agencies including both the BBC and Sky used the court’s live stream as part of their reporting. Two access points were installed at both the front and rear of the Supreme Court to take the camera streams accessed in the control room back to the broadcasters via an OB truck.
Panasonic PTZ cameras provided the correct combination of cost-efficiency, quality and service that tended to the court’s needs. “From a feature perspective, we needed a system that was cost-effective in terms of an initial outlay but also to maintain and receive support as and when we need it. We wanted a long-term relationship, and with Panasonic we know that we’d get that.
“We were very pleased with the feedback we have received on the picture quality, not only from those around the courts but also from feedback on the stream and the broadcasters too!”, concludes Dan