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Cameras to be allowed in court?

ITN's Priscilla Coleman provides viewers with all the colour of the courtroom though her pastels. Photo: Priscilla Coleman, ITN

I'm one of the oldest members of our newsroom and proud of it.

Not least because in my head I have my very own picture and information archive to draw on which helps me make sense of the events I have to think about and cover.

Experience, I think it's called.

So now I'm thinking about the implications of the introduction of cameras into the courtrooms of England and Wales; I'm looking into my archives and remembering a similar landmark "camera" moment in the 1980's when cameras were first allowed into Parliament.

Gary Dobson can be seen shaking his head during his trial for murdering Stephen Lawrence Credit: Priscilla Coleman

Before then, it had fallen to me as a very junior member of the team to run and fetch the picture slides of the MP's who spoke in the Commons.

These would be "run to tele-cine" and broadcast from there alongside the audio of the men, and occassional woman, debating in the chamber.

This artificial "debate montage" was the accepted way television covered Prime Minister's Questions was broadcast week in and week out because cameras were not allowed in the chamber.

How archaic that seems now: Prime Minister's Question as radio on television.

And I'm sure that's how ludicrous today's broadcast court reporting will look to in 30 years because of the ban on court cameras.

Priscilla Coleman sketches all of the characters in court in time for the news bulletin Credit: Priscilla Coleman

Today it's all prison-van arrivals and pieces to cameras from reporters standing outside. Plus the lovely sketches of the defendants and witnesses, done with speed and precision by ITN's very own Priscilla Coleman.

A fine artist and observational journalist in her own right, her work brings the drama and characters of the court room to life.

John Battle, head of compliance for ITN, the broadcaster behind ITV News, Channel 4 News and 5 News, said allowing cameras in court would be an important landmark change to the judicial system:

It will bring greater openness to the judicial system, greater public awareness, and a greater understanding of the whole process of justice.

The lobbying has been going on for a significant period of time, starting in 1989. Over the last 10 years there has been significant lobbying by broadcasters and important staging posts that show that cameras in court work and do not affect proceedings. It's been a long road but in the interests of greater oppenness this is a significant landmark for change.

– John Battle, Head of Compliance, ITN

Downing Street and the Ministry of Justice have repeatedly expressed support for the scheme, which, it is argued, would help the public understand complex legal procedures.

In its initial phase, cameras would be allowed to film the judge's summing up and sentencing remarks in the court of appeal.

If successful, filming would be extended to the crown court.

A change in the law is required because cameras are forbidden in court under the 1925 Criminal Justice Act and the 1981 Contempt of Court Act

Initially, broadcasters will fund the installation and maintenance of the cameras. They will be remotely operated and only judges will be filmed.

At the moment there are no plans to include footage of defendants, witnesses or lawyers.

– Ministry of Justice spokesman

It is hoped it will change the way justice is seen to be done and open one of the last bastions of privacy to public scrutiny.

There are some reservations about how the scheme will actually work, but few real opponents.

But spare a thought for the lovely Priscilla.

Her archive of art and experience remain priceless, but there's unlikelyto be a need for a replacement court artist when she finally chooses to put down her pastels.

The judge in the Stephen Lawrence trial. Credit: Priscilla Coleman