Court of Appeal agrees to trial camera coverage

Over six weeks, broadcasters will produce sample news packages inside the appeal courts

The Department for Constitutional Affairs is allowing television cameras into the courts for the first time in England later this year as part of a pilot scheme, in which broadcasters will examine ways of reporting from inside the Court of Appeal.

Over a six-week period, broadcasters will be allowed to produce sample news packages inside the courts to be viewed by themselves, judges and legal experts – but which will not be broadcast to the public.

According to a DCA spokesman, certain areas of the court will be out of bounds. “This is likely to include the dock in criminal appeals, and the witness box in all kinds of appeal. Most of the cameras will be concentrated on the judges hearing the case and the counsel presenting the argument,” he told Press Gazette.

The move is the latest stage in the ongoing debate on whether cameras should be allowed into courts. Talks to arrange the pilot began between broadcasters and the then Lord Chancellor’s Office last March. At the time it was agreed that if a project was to take place, access to the Court of Appeal would be given for news – both live coverage and bulletins – documentaries and educational programmes (Press Gazette, 13 March 2003).

But the DCA spokesman said this week: “What’s different this time is that there is a definite commitment to the pilot. Whereas before there has always been a discussion about ‘in an ideal world, we’d be doing this’, now there’s a degree of certainty to it.”

The BBC and ITN are understood to be putting up some of the money required to fund the pilot.

Sky is also said to be taking part in the trial, although officially broadcasters insist no agreements have yet been reached, and one refused to respond to “speculation”.

Filming inside the Court of Appeal would bring England in line with Scotland, which has allowed cameras into court since 1992. The Criminal Justice Act of 1925 prohibits all cameras from English and Welsh courts. Guidelines drawn up in 1992 by Lord Hope, then head of the Scottish judiciary, allowed cameras into Scottish courts with certain restrictions.

A panel discussion on permitting cameras into the courts will be held at the Edinburgh Television Festival next month.

The session, to be chaired by Sky News political editor Adam Boulton, will look at the future role of cameras in the courtroom and recent progress made in Britain, including the forthcoming pilot in the Appeal Court and the possibility of televised trials in the UK.

The panel will include Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs; John Battle, head of compliance at ITN; Catherine Crier, anchor at US-based Court TV; and Denise Brown, sister of OJ Simpson’s wife Nicole, who was murdered in 1994. Simpson’s trial was televised in the US a year later.

By Wale Azeez

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