We have reached a landmark moment for open justice and our legal system in England and Wales: from tomorrow, broadcasters can film proceedings in the Court of Appeal. A new law has overturned a near-century long ban on filming in court after a lengthy campaign that I have been involved in with others across the industry.
Before 1925, photographs were sometimes taken in court, such as in the case of Dr Crippen’s murder trial. Since then, the public has not been able to see the goings on inside the court without being in the public gallery or via sketches.
But we have watched trials around the world.
The change in the law follows a pilot scheme in 2005, the filming of public inquiries such as the Leveson Inquiry and developments including tweeting from court. And since 2009 the proceedings in the Supreme Court have been filmed, including a live stream online, due to its former connection to Parliament.
All these developments have shown that using modern means of communication and technology do not disrupt or influence proceedings.
Broadcasters have always stated that cameras in court will have a significant benefit to the public. There will be a greater understanding of our justice system on issues such as sentencing or what happens in a court and it could also better prepare them if they have to appear as a witness or a juror.
Scotland has been far ahead of England and Wales in terms of cameras in courts. A full murder trial in Scotland was broadcast on Channel 4 this year, including witnesses and comments between lawyers during the case. And just this week the Scottish courts launched a consultation on expanding the ability to film in court.
This is how events in the Court of Appeal will be filmed: footage can be shown “as live”, with a 70 second delay; five of the courts are permanently wired and there is a mobile film unit that fits into the court furniture and can be wheeled between the courtrooms.
However, only one court can be filmed at a time.
The filming is undertaken by a court video journalist who is jointly funded by the BBC, Sky, ITN (which produces ITV News, Channel 4 News and Channel Five News) and the Press Association.
Naturally, broadcasters will focus on the more newsworthy cases.
This is likely to be high profile appeals against sentences, miscarriages of justice and judicial review appeals against politicians’ decisions.
This new dawn will be closely watched by the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and broadcasters to see whether there is a case for showing footage from inside a trial – not the whole of it but, for example, the sentence after a jury has reached a guilty verdict.
Filming in the Court of Appeal will show that televised proceedings enable justice to be seen to be done. I am certain we will soon look back and question why the cameras were kept out of court for so long.