Legal Business Blogs

A ‘landmark’ baby step towards filming the courts welcomed by all

The long campaign for domestic courts to be opened up to filming today (30 October) secured an (actually pretty minor) victory with the Court of Appeal letting in television cameras. With the Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2013 coming into force, the ban on cameras in courts in England and Wales that has been in place since 1925 has been somewhat eased.

After years of lobbying by the BBC, ITN, Press Association and Sky News, who are funding the scheme, cameras have been placed in five courts in the Court of Appeal. ‘I salute those in our organisations who have worked tirelessly over many years to overturn the ban,’ said John Hardie, chief executive of ITN.

The move – which has been called for by many in the profession – was welcomed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas. He said: ‘The Court of Appeal has, of course, been open to the public and to journalists for a long time. The change in the law which is now coming into force will permit the recording and broadcasting of the proceedings of the Court of Appeal. This will help a wider audience to understand and see for themselves how the Court goes about its work.’

Courts minister Helen Grant said: ‘We are opening up the court process to allow people to see and hear the judges’ decisions in their own words, but we will also ensure that victims and witnesses will not be filmed and will remain protected.’

Many restrictions remain in place with cameras only focusing on lawyers and judges. Defendants, witnesses and members of the public will be kept out of shot. The initiative will also be heavily limited in that the ban remains on filming crown and magistrate courts, depriving the public of the chance to see cross-examinations in favour of the technical points of law that reach the appellant courts.

Judges will have the power to ban filming of procedures if it is viewed that it may prejudice the case and the footage can only be used in a news context, so TV shows like ‘Have I got news for you’ won’t be able to use footage for satirical purposes. There is also a 70 second delay to allow removal of anything that contravenes broadcasting regulations or court reporting procedure. An appeal against a conviction that may result in a re-trial will only be shown once the case is decided, though how this can be predicted is unclear.

The Supreme Court has allowed broadcasters access to footage of hearings since its 2009 launch, and now allows live streaming with SkyNews. The court also has a ‘channel’ on YouTube.

There have previously been pilots involving filming the courts in Scotland and in the Court of Appeal, but the UK remains notably resistant to broadcasting its courts in comparison to the US, where such openness is common-place.

Practical use of filmed hearings may only come if facilities are put in place to record and stream hearings, which would allow practitioners, researchers and the public easier access to specific material.

The hope by some broadcasters is that this is only the beginning of televising court proceedings. John Ryley, head of Sky News, commented: ‘We anticipate that the next step should be to allow the filming of sentencing remarks in criminal trials.’

This is already widely used in print journalism, seeing a judge make his often harsh closing remarks could make strong news television. Of course, alternatively, the public may just think the courts very dull. For a Mad Men-themed visual representation of what it may look like click here.