Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Televising the Court Room


Permitting Television Cameras in Courts

In a Written Ministerial Statement of 6th September the Lord Chancellor said he would legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows to remove the legal restrictions on filming in court.

The Lord Chief Justice made the following comment: 

"I am committed to the principle of open justice. The benefits that may come from reporting more cases on television, and indeed radio, in demystifying the judicial process and showing the rationale behind the complex decisions that judges have to make, have to be weighted against the potential effects on the trial process and in victims and witnesses in particular. I am aware of the Government's intentions in relation to introducing broadcasting from court and will work with them to ensure that any changes to the current position safeguard all parties in a case and will not affect the administration of justice."

Also, according to the Ministerial Statement, certain additional "justice data" will be published.   Initially, the plan is that judgements in the Court of Appeal will be broadcast and, later, the use of TV will be expanded to the Crown Court.  The possibility of showing sentencing was mentioned by David Cameron on 5th September - before the announcement from the Ministry of Justice - see Guardian 5th September  This gave the appearance, rightly or wrongly, of the Ministry of Justice playing "catch-up" to the Prime Minister.


There will be further consultation and, according to Kenneth Clarke, offenders will not be given "opportunities for theatrical public display."   The reference to "offenders" in the Ministerial Statement is interesting since it suggests that extension of TV to the Crown Court will be, at least initially, for sentencing hearings only and, even then, it would probably be selected cases.  Obviously, more details remain to emerge.

There have been a number of instances where offenders were sentenced and left the court behaving in a way which could only have added insult to injury for either victims or their relatives.  A very notable instance of this occurred after Irwin J sentenced some of those involved in the killing of Rhys Jones - see Guardian 16th December 2008


Some of the potential problems are looked at by David Banks in "Televised sentencing: a screen test for open justice" - The Guardian 6th September.   Of course, as the Ministerial statement makes clear, the extension of television below Court of Appeal level will be developed in consultation with the judiciary.


Live streaming of most hearings in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom commenced in May 2011 and appears to have been highly successful. 

See also CharonQC's blogpost - "Ave, Camcorderdirector, morituri te salutant
UK Human Rights Blog - "The revolution will be televised
Halsburys Law Exchange - "Cameras in the courtroom"

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