TV Cameras To Be Allowed To Film in Crown Court in England and Wales

Photo by Julian Schiemann

Dr. Alexandros Antoniou, Lecturer in Media Law, University of Essex

On 16 January 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to allow for the first time in England and Wales recordings and broadcasts from the Crown Court with the aim of increasing public engagement with the justice system.

Filming is already permitted in the Supreme Court and has been since it was set up in 2009 (although this is carried out by the court itself) and the television broadcasting of Court of Appeal proceedings has been possible in specified circumstances since 2013 under the Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2013. The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 will extend this to the Crown Court (which deals with serious criminal cases like murder and sexual offences) and allow cameras to broadcast the sentencing remarks of High Court and Senior Circuit judges when sitting in open court. No other court user will be filmed, however, and normal reporting restrictions will continue to apply to protect victims or witnesses involved in the case.

The policy aim of this legislative move is to ensure that courts “remain open and transparent and allow people to see justice being delivered to the most serious of offenders.” The legislation has been welcomed by broadcasters such as ITN, Sky and the BBC, and follows a not-for-broadcast pilot run between July 2016 and February 2017 to enable assessment of the practical and technical challenges of filming in the Crown Court.

The 2020 Order prescribes the conditions to be satisfied for the visual and sound recording and broadcast of sentencing remarks in the Crown Court. When these conditions are satisfied, section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 (which bans photography and filming in courts and their precincts) and section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (which makes it illegal to record sound in court and broadcast any audio-recording of court proceedings except with the permission of the court) will not apply.

The legislation comes with safeguards. Whole trials will not be televised and filming will be restricted to the judge alone who will be seen on camera as he or she delivers their sentencing remarks. Moreover, recording or live broadcast can only be carried out by persons who have been given specific permission by the Lord Chancellor. Filming will also be appropriately edited before leaving the courtroom. Where filming is to be broadcast live, there will be a short delay before broadcast to avoid breaches of reporting restrictions or any other error. Whilst concerns may be expressed that particular sections of lengthy remarks may be broadcast out of context to create a false impression, the full sentencing remarks of any case broadcast will be hosted on a website to which the public will have access. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service will retain copyright of the footage and will be able to access any footage taken by broadcasters.

This post first appeared on the legal database IRIS Merlin and is reproduced here with permission and thanks.

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