TELEVISED COURTS

Written 3rd July 2013 by Olliers Solicitors

Filming inside the Court of Appeal from October 2013 is seen by the Government as a first step toward greater judicial transparency, as reported in the Guardian yesterday.

Filming in Court

It has been suggested that this could then lead to some filming being allowed in Crown courts. In a move towards greater transparency in the justice system, ministers hope that judges could be filmed delivering verdicts and sentences.

No. 10 has indicated that allowing filming in the Court of Appeal is being seen as a first step. Broadcasters will be given the right to film counsel and judges in appeal cases.

It is believed that ministers hope to extend filming to Crown court cases, however, broadcasters would only be allowed to film the judge during the verdict and during sentencing. As a result defendants, witnesses and counsel on both sides would not be filmed.

A No. 10 source said:

“This is an important step in opening up the court process. Allowing the public to watch justice in action will help build trust in our judicial system. Hearing why verdicts have been given and watching the sentencing process will add to public confidence in the courts.”

Lord Chief Justice

However, it would appear that the judiciary do not necessarily support such moves. Lord Judge, the outgoing Lord Chief Justice, said in January 2013 that he supported the general principle of allowing cameras into court, but he felt that the filming of sentencing was going a step too far.

He said:

“I’m perfectly happy with cameras coming into court, provided their presence doesn’t increase the risk that justice won’t be done. [But] I’m very troubled about having cameras just swanning around the court.”

On sentencing, he added:

“Not sentencing, I take a very strong view about sentencing.”

The Lord Chief Justice indicated that judges would be given training for televised court of appeal hearings, stating:

“We will arrange for those judges who sit in these courts to have some training……the general idea is that it will start in October in the two courts of appeal.”

Channel 4 in the High Court

Channel 4 will broadcast a documentary on 9 July about a Scottish murder trial which includes scenes filmed in the high court in Edinburgh. It is not the first time a Scottish trial has been televised but it suggests, because consent had to be obtained from witnesses after their appearance, that the public is gradually becoming accustomed to the idea of cameras in courtrooms.

Channel 4 was granted permission to film the hearing but had to seek witnesses’ permission before their evidence could be broadcast. It would appear that most witnesses consented. The documentary also contains interviews conducted with barristers, the judge, the deceased’s family and others outside the courtroom. The film was previewed to the judge and legal authorities in Scotland to check that it was an accurate reflection of the case.

It remains to be seen the effects of such measures. It would appear that some senior judges have concerns that such a move could leave them vulnerable to heckling and criticism especially in particularly emotive cases. However, some feel that the new measures could lead to greater transparency within the criminal justice system.

Ruth Peters

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