By Hope Rea, 21st June 2023
Photography has been banned in UK courts since 1910 but media outlets have long campaigned for the use of cameras in court rooms. Reporting is allowed in the courts but the inside of the UK court room during a case was not filmed or photographed until 2022. One significant concern which has made the judiciary wary of use of photography in the court room is the risk of distress to victims and witnesses, the risk of sensationalising and dramatizing court cases and the threat to confidentiality. The international sensation of the OJ Simpson murder trial in the USA in 1995 exposed these risks of infiltration of the media into the court room.
The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 allowed for the filming of sentencing hearings in the Crown Court for the first time and, following delays due to COVID, was implemented in 2022. In July 2022 the sentencing of Ben Oliver, a 25 year old convicted of manslaughter at the Old Bailey was televised.
Open justice is an integral part of our Criminal Justice System. A principle underpinned by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, “justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done”. One example of this in practice is ‘open court rooms’ any members of the public to watch court sessions from the public galleries. This does depend on the circumstances of the case however for which the court itself has the jurisdiction to decide. However, many court rooms have limited seats and apart from reporters and the occasional law student, they can be empty.
The Ministry of Justice highlights that open justice can “ensure the public have a satisfactory understanding of the legal process by providing citizens with access to proceedings, data, advice, and information”. Court rooms can be extremely stress inducing environments, for both victims and defendants. It can be complicated, and for those experiencing it for the first time, unusual and entirely foreign.
1.26 million individuals were dealt with by the Criminal Justice System in 2022, and the number is only increasing. Many people will someday have to attend court, whether that be as a witness, a victim, a defendant or if summoned for jury service. During COVID many courts were closed and the criminal justice system went remote. Proceedings were conducted, almost entirely, via video and audio technologies.
The guidelines suggest that every recorded sentencing will be posted on YouTube so that viewers can follow the judges explanation of the law and justifications used for the punishment. The increase of cameras and exposure into the courts can only bring greater understanding to a widely misunderstood system. A deeper insight to the court system could be beneficial in many ways. It exposes a larger amount of the public to view and start to understand how the criminal law functions in real time.
Hopefully the move towards a more transparent Criminal Justice System will eventually start to demystify the process of how offenders are dealt with by the courts.
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