Crown courts in England and Wales are to run a pilot scheme which will allow television cameras to be present for the first time. Cameras have previously been allowed into Supreme Court and Court of Appeal hearings, but never before into the crown courts.
The pilot scheme, announced recently by Justice Minister Shailesh Vara, will allow cameras to enter crown courts and record senior judges comments on sentencing defendants, but will not allow any other individuals or events in the court to be recorded. The footage from the pilot scheme, which is planned to begin within the next few weeks, is not intended for broadcast. However, if the outcome of the scheme is judged positively, it could lead onto further and more extensive presence of cameras within crown courts. Potentially, it could ultimately lead to some cases receiving live broadcast coverage.
Removing the ban on TV cameras in the UK’s courtroom has previously been suggested as a way to increase transparency and accountability in the legal system. Crown courts are open to both the public and to the press, but no recording of proceedings is allowed to take place. The Criminal Justice Act 1925 prohibits this, as does the Contempt of Court Act. As such, only those members of the public who attend proceedings in person have direct access to the opportunity to observe what takes place during a trial, with other members of the public having to rely on second hand press accounts. Some have that allowing cases to be witnessed by the public on a wide scale through broadcast would be desirable as a way of providing a more open and accessible system.
These sentiments were echoed by the Justice Minister in announcing the new pilot. Vara said: “My hope is that this will lead to more openness and transparency as to what happens in our courts. Broadcasting sentencing remarks would allow the public to see and hear the judge’s decision in their own words.”
The pilot scheme will take place over the course of three months, and involve eight different courts from various locations across England and Wales. These include the Old Bailey and its fellow London courts in Southwark, along with locations in Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol.
According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, safeguards will be put in place throughout the pilot period to ensure that justice is not impeded and that the needs of victims are not compromised. Cameras will not be permitted to record anybody in the court – including victims, defendants witnesses, legal professionals, and court staff – except the judge.