TV cameras could be allowed in courts within months

16 January 2020, 08:00

TV cameras could be allowed into Crown Courts for the first time
TV cameras could be allowed into Crown Courts for the first time. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Steps to allow TV cameras into Crown Courts to film judges' sentencing remarks have come a step closer with draft legislation laid down in Parliament.

MPs and peers will consider The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 which would permit High Court and Senior Circuit judges to be filmed as they hand out penalties in criminal cases.

However, trials will not be televised as they are in countries such as the US as only the judge will be filmed.

The Justice Secretary told LBC the government hoped the move would help make judges' decisions clearer to the public.

Some courts have allowed filming with the Supreme Court famously allowing the broadcast of rulings around Brexit.

The move would see the broadcast of sentencing remarks by the judge in certain high profile court cases, the new law would allow them to be broadcast to the public for the first time.

Barristers have warned against making court proceedings "a spectator sport", and over the risk of judges facing a backlash from members of the public who lack the context of a full criminal trial.

Only the sentencing remarks would be filmed and no other court user, for example, victims, witnesses, jurors or staff, would be caught on camera.

Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland told LBC it would help explain the reasoning behind sentencing decisions.

"Broadcasting directly to the public allows everyone to digest the details of a sentence."

A three-month pilot has already been carried out where sentencing remarks were recorded in eight crown courts on a not-for-broadcast basis.

Broadcasters ITN, Sky and the BBC, who campaigned for the access, have all welcomed the move as a boost for transparency.

Amanda Pinto QC, chairwoman of the Bar Council, said: "This initiative will help people understand the realities of our criminal justice system.

"However, given that it is only the judge's sentencing remarks that will be televised, the public may well not fully appreciate why a particular sentence has been given without seeing the evidence presented during trial, the mitigating factors and other relevant information, such as probation reports.

"This is especially the case in a trial where the judge will have seen and heard the victim, the defendant and other witnesses, but the judge's evaluation of them may not be clear from the televised hearing.

"We must guard against unwarranted attacks on judges where the sentence isn't popular with the public.

"'Enemies of the People' type proclamations, where judges have been personally attacked and their independence questioned, simply for doing their job, are completely unacceptable.

"Sentencing must not become an armchair, spectator sport."

Sky's Head of News, John Ryley said: "The filming of judges' sentencing remarks in the crown court is a great day for transparency in our courts."