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  1. ITV Report

'A great day for open justice': ITN lawyer explains impact cameras in Crown Courts may have on TV coverage

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

Draft legislation has been presented in parliament which could pave the way for filming to be allowed in Crown Courts in England and Wales for the first time.

ITN’s Head of Compliance, John Battle, has spearheaded the campaign and explains the impact the move could have on court coverage for broadcasters, and what it has taken to finally get to this point.

The Ministry of Justice announced on Thursday they are proposing a change to the law to allow filming and broadcasting of sentencing in the Crown Court. The change means that sentencing in high profile criminal cases will be seen on television news. This is a significant landmark for filming court proceedings.

This change arises from a long-standing campaign by ITN (which produces ITV News), Sky News and the BBC to film court proceedings. Over that time there has been slow but steady progress. When the campaign started there was no filming in any courts in England and Wales and very little in Public Inquiries.

Now filming takes place of proceedings in the Court of Appeal in and in the Supreme Court. The most well-known example was the prorogation of Parliament judgment in the Supreme Court. Other examples include the ITV documentary featuring the Court of Appeal.

Alongside this, filming in Public Inquiries is now fairly commonplace, including filming of witnesses – for example in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

Filming for crown court cases is not allowed under law right now, but may change later this year. Credit: PA

Broadcasters have also always recognised the sensitivities here – particularly the need for the protection of children, victims and vulnerable witnesses.

Over time real progress has been made and the evidence on the facts is that filming the courts works well and there have not been problems. Changes have happened in a measured, considered way - as you would expect where every new step is scrutinised by the senior judiciary and the Ministry of justice. The sky has not fallen down.

The move is supported by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Head of the Judiciary in England and Wales, who said: "The courts are reported by journalists already, but this gives an extra dimension to allow people to see the sentences judges pass on convicted criminals and to understand why they interpret the law and guidelines the way they do in each case."

So what can you expect to see in news programmes? This is about filming of the judge’s sentencing alone – not the defendant, witnesses or families in court or the jury. Filming will take place in Crown Court centres throughout England and Wales, including the Old Bailey and in regional courts outside London.

Filming outside of court is allowed under law. Credit: PA

This will be both for criminal cases of national importance and of interest to regional news as well. Permission to film must be given by the judge to film and a written application made to the judge. The judge hearing the case must be a High Court Judge or the Resident Judge of a Crown Court centre.

The footage cannot be used in light entertainment or satire programmes, adverts or party political broadcasts. Note also these reforms relate to England and Wales, the Scottish legal system already allows filming of sentencing in some cases.

The filming in the Crown Court will draw upon the experience of filming in the courts to date. Certain principles have stood the project in good stead.

First, it is the judge who decides whether filming takes place (as with any issue in the court), the broadcasters have editorial control once the film is taken and the aim is to help the public to understand the legal system by giving real effect to the public’s right to see the courts, bringing the public gallery into their living rooms through television news.

In the Crown Court it is envisaged that most of the filming will be done by a camera operator in the court with a single camera. Credit: PA

In the Crown Court it is envisaged that most of the filming will be done by a camera operator in the court with a single camera. As well as edited packages, there is also potential for live coverage of sentencing (with a short time delay). The broadcasters will have to decide which cases we want to film, whether to film live and follow the application process to the judge.

So where is it all going? Broadcasters have been campaigning on this issue for nearly two decades. The tide of opinion has changed over time. In the past, most people outside the media would be against filming in court and would hark back to the OJ Simpson case. These days there is a greater support for the view that there is a place for cameras in the courts and that it can be a good thing for the public, for transparency and the rule of law.

I think the change is likely to result in more reporting of the courts, on a national and regional level. There is also more interest from the public in the criminal courts than in the appellate courts. From a news perspective, the more footage we have the more we are likely to report the courts. The reform should also lead in time to filming other courts – whether the High Court, the magistrates court and the Coroner’s Court. In the Crown Court itself the next step may be to allow filming of the defendant in the court entering and leaving the proceedings.

It is a great day for open justice. By de-mystifying the courts, the public are better placed to know how our justice system actually works, about issues such as sentencing policy and the role and work of judges. As broadcasters we will also be better able to show the public what happened and improve the public’s understanding of the courts. Through the process of change the broadcasters have proved their case that filming in the Crown Court should be allowed.