/Cameras to be allowed in crown courts | but only for sentencing

Cameras to be allowed in crown courts | but only for sentencing

Moves to allow TV cameras to broadcast judges’ sentencing remarks from crown courts for the first time have moved a step closer as draft legislation has been laid down in Parliament.

The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 would allow High Court and Senior Circuit judges to be filmed as they hand out penalties in criminal cases.

The bill will now be considered by MPs and peers.

Filming has been allowed in certain Court of Appeal cases since 2013, and the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, allows visitors to watch videos proceedings from its exhibition area.

Moves to allow a judge’s reasons for passing a certain sentence in a criminal case have been under consideration for several years, and the new law would allow them to be broadcast to the public for the first time.

Manchester Crown Court in Crown Square, Manchester

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 captured on camera.

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Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said: “It will ensure our courts remain open and transparent and allow people to see justice being delivered to the most serious of offenders.”

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

A judge’s wooden gavel is a symbol of the UK’s jurisdiction process
(Image: scu)

Broadcasters including 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.”

Caroline Goodwin, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, warned that filming should remain restricted to sentencing remarks only.

She said: “Nothing must compromise the interests of justice, the primacy of a fair trial, and respecting the interests of vulnerable witnesses, witnesses generally and defendants.

“Such matters would need extremely sensitive and vigilant consideration if it was ultimately proposed to televise, live or recorded, all proceedings in the Crown Court on a routine basis.”

The Old Bailey in London
(Image: Getty Images)

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Head of the Judiciary in England and Wales, is backing the proposal.

He said: “I have pressed for this change since I took office two years ago.

“The courts are reported by journalists already, but this gives an extra dimension to allow people to see the sentences judges pass on convicted criminals and to understand why they interpret the law and guidelines the way they do in each case.”

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Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has dismissed fears that allowing cameras in courts to hear judges’ sentencing remarks will be a “blind stumble” into an “undesirable OJ Simpson-style scenario”.

He told TalkRadio that the plans had been formed after close work with the judiciary and “does enjoy their full support”.

“Therefore, this isn’t some sort of blind stumble into that sort of undesirable OJ Simpson-style scenario,” he said, adding that it is “about information rather than entertainment”.

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