Courts in England and Wales will be more publicly accessible than ever before when television broadcasting is introduced. Plans to overturn the ban on filming and broadcasting from law courts were unveiled as part of the Queen’s Speech and will form part of the Crime and Courts Bill.
Putting flesh on the bare bones of this announcement, the Ministry of Justice has issued detailed proposals which state: “We are proposing to allow judgments and legal arguments from cases before the Court of Appeal to be broadcast. Over a longer period, we intend to extend broadcasting to judges’ sentencing remarks only in proceedings in the Crown Court…Primary legislation in the Crime, Communications & Courts Bill will enable the Lord Chancellor, with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, to set out in secondary legislation the specific circumstances in which the prohibition on cameras in courts in section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, and the contempt provisions in the Contempt of Court Act 1981 relating to broadcast of sound recording will be dis-applied.”
Cases in the Court of Appeal normally deal with complex issues of law or evidence. Given the complexity of legal issues in these cases, allowing advocates’ arguments to be filmed in addition to judgments would be more likely to improve public understanding than judgments alone. Even in those cases, the court will have the discretion to stop filming or refuse to allow broadcast of recorded footage where it would interfere with the proper administration of justice.
The plans also include safeguards to ensure that participants are treated fairly, and their rights are respected. “We will not allow victims, witnesses, jurors or defendants to be filmed under any circumstances…Filming must not give defendants opportunities for theatrical public display. Offenders will not be allowed to be filmed and we are clear that the judge will have the right to stop filming in the event of any demonstration or disruption in the court room. Victims and witnesses will be protected and we will not introduce any measures which would make their experience of court even more difficult or make them reluctant to give evidence.”
This emphasises the key concern that potential witnesses may refuse to appear if they know that their testimony is going to be broadcast, which could lead to delays, cracked trials, or miscarriages of justice. There are often difficulties in persuading people to testify, for example if they fear intimidation, and it has been argued that the prospect of a case being broadcast would be a further obstacle in this process.
There are no plans to allow broadcasting of whole trials from the Crown Court. “The Government and the Judiciary will not permit our courts to become show trials for media entertainment.”
Sky News, ITN and the BBC issued a joint statement stating: “Following years of campaigning, we welcome this historic reform that marks an important step for democracy and open justice. The presence of cameras in our courtrooms will lead to greater public engagement and understanding of our legal system. We look forward to working closely with the judiciary and the government to ensure that justice will now truly be seen to be done.”