LONDON : Television cameras were allowed into one of the highest courts in Britain for the first time on Thursday, hailed as a landmark move towards open justice while still protecting the rights of vulnerable witnesses. Judges and lawyers discussing a case at the Court of Appeal in London, wearing their traditional white wigs and black robes, were broadcast live on the main television networks.
The historic move follows the lifting of a 1925 law which banned image and sound recording from all courts in England and Wales except the highest, the Supreme Court. “This is a landmark moment for justice and journalism,” said James Harding, director of news and current affairs at the BBC, which along with other broadcasters had pushed for the change. “It is a significant step on the way to helping millions of viewers gain a greater understanding of how our judicial system works.”
Cameras will film lawyers’ arguments and the judge’s summing up and sentencing remarks, but not witnesses, victims or defendants.
This restriction, and the proviso that the footage is only used in current affairs and educational programmes, is intended to avoid “sensationalising” court proceedings.
The government intends to move on to televising the judges’ remarks on sentencing at the end of trial in the Crown Court - the home of the most “juicy” criminal trials.
The most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Chief Justice Lord John Thomas, welcomed the move as a way to “help a wider audience to understand and see for themselves how the Court of Appeal goes about its work”.
“We are clear that justice must be seen to be done,” added courts minister Shailesh Vara.
At present, only the proceedings of the Supreme Court are televised, which represents a tiny proportion of all cases.
Journalists and members of the public are free to attend most court proceedings, but members of the press are subject to legal restrictions on what they may write.
Some judges allow tweeting from court, but others ban onlookers from bringing in mobile phones and computers.
There will be a 70-second delay on the live feed from the Court of Appeal to allow the removal of anything that could breach broadcasting regulations or reporting restrictions.
Other cases meanwhile will be filmed and the footage broadcast at a later date.