Television cameras in courtrooms
Since 1925 filming in UK courts has been prohibited. The reporters and their cameras are allowed to be outside the court but not inside the courtroom. The debate about whether that should change has been live for many years. Those in favour claim that allowing filming in courts will help to deliver truly ‘open justice’ and more transparency of judicial proceedings and those against raise the issue of protecting the rights of victims, witnesses and defendants.
The current situation and proposals
Currently filming is prohibited under the 1925 Criminal Justice Act and the 1981 Contempt of Court Act. The exception is the Supreme Court, which is governed by its own legislation and which broadcasts its proceedings live. The argument here is that the highest court in the UK hears appeals of cases of great public importance.
The proposals from the Ministry of Justice and the Government are to introduce the use of cameras to broadcast the judges’ summing up and sentencing in the appeal courts and depending on the outcome expand to include the crown courts.
Arguments in favour
The justice secretary Ken Clarke claims that the use of cameras can improve transparency and public understanding of judicial proceedings. The biggest UK TV broadcasters claim that greater openness and faith that justice can be done would be facilitated by bringing cameras into courtrooms. Watching a trial live on TV can be educational and contribute to improving public knowledge on what happens in the courtroom at different stages of the proceedings. The question is whether the judicial process is not transparent enough with courts being open to the public? If members of the public are, in fact, really interested in observing legal proceedings, what deters them from coming to court and watching them live there as opposed to the broadcasted live version?
The director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer, though backing the idea, stated that it is important not to promote anything which might have an adverse effect on the statements and evidence given by victims and witnesses in court. The argument against could go even further: will cameras in courts not discourage some victims from reporting their cases out of apprehension , shame or fear of being recognised and watched on TV by their neighbours or colleagues?
The discussion continues and it is suggested that it might be mentioned in the Queen’s speech in May. Whatever the result of the debate, it is of the upmost importance that safeguards are put in place to protect the privacy and wellbeing of the participants in court proceedings and only implement the cameras if it is considered fair, just and reasonable in the circumstances.