TV cameras could soon be allowed to film in Crown Courts in England and Wales

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

TV cameras could soon be allowed to film in Crown Courts in England and Wales for the first time.

Moves to allow judges' sentencing remarks from Crown Courts to be broadcast for the first time have come a step closer with draft legislation laid down in Parliament.

Currently it is illegal to even make a sketch of proceedings, with court artists forced to draw from memory outside the room.

The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 would permit High Court and Senior Circuit judges to be filmed as they hand out penalties in criminal cases.

It will now be considered by MPs and peers, with the first broadcasts beginning in late spring or early summer.

Filming has been allowed in certain Court of Appeal cases since 2013, and the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, also videos proceedings for visitors to view from its exhibition area.

However, proceedings in both of these courts are appeals, not criminal trials, and are confined to lawyers' arguments and judge's rulings.

Only judges' sentencing remarks will be broadcast. Credit: PA

Moves to allow a judge's reasons for passing a certain sentence in a criminal case have been under consideration for several years, and the new law would allow them to be broadcast to the public for the first time.

Barristers have warned against making court proceedings "a spectator sport", and over the risk of judges facing a backlash from members of the public who lack the context of a full criminal trial.

Only the sentencing remarks would be filmed and no other court user, for example victims, witnesses, jurors or staff, would be caught on camera for fear it would put people off from taking part in the justice process.

Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, explaining the move, told ITV News "it is really about the big cases, where the sentencing remarks are absolutely crucial to help us gain as clear an understanding as possible of why it is the judge has made the decision."

"It will ensure our courts remain open and transparent and allow people to see justice being delivered to the most serious of offenders."

He said the government will "start rolling this out" within the next few months.

A three-month pilot has already been carried out where sentencing remarks were recorded in eight crown courts on a not-for-broadcast basis.

Broadcasters ITN, Sky and the BBC, who campaigned for the access, have all welcomed the move as a boost for transparency.

However, there are critics of the proposal.

Amanda Pinto QC, chairwoman of the Bar Council, said: "This initiative will help people understand the realities of our criminal justice system.

"However, given that it is only the judge's sentencing remarks that will be televised, the public may well not fully appreciate why a particular sentence has been given without seeing the evidence presented during trial, the mitigating factors and other relevant information, such as probation reports.

"This is especially the case in a trial where the judge will have seen and heard the victim, the defendant and other witnesses, but the judge's evaluation of them may not be clear from the televised hearing.

"We must guard against unwarranted attacks on judges where the sentence isn't popular with the public.

"'Enemies of the People' type proclamations, where judges have been personally attacked and their independence questioned, simply for doing their job, are completely unacceptable.

"Sentencing must not become an armchair, spectator sport."

There are restrictions on where filming can take place outside court. Credit: PA

Caroline Goodwin, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, warned that filming should remain restricted to sentencing remarks only.

She said: "Nothing must compromise the interests of justice, the primacy of a fair trial, and respecting the interests of vulnerable witnesses, witnesses generally and defendants.

"Such matters would need extremely sensitive and vigilant consideration if it was ultimately proposed to televise, live or recorded, all proceedings in the Crown Court on a routine basis."

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Head of the Judiciary in England and Wales, is backing the proposal.

He said: "I have pressed for this change since I took office two years ago.

"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."