Ken Clarke: Televising courts strictly limited to judges

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke yesterday ruled out the idea that plans to televise the comments of judges in criminal trials could be extended to include witness testimony.

MPs said they were concerned court hearings could become “theatrical”, while some defendants might use legal privilege to abuse their victims without fear of being sued.

Tory Christopher Pincher, MP for Tamworth, urged the Lord Chancellor to protect court officials and lawyers from “unwanted attention”, saying that while justice must “be seen to be done, it mustn’t be seen to be fun”.

But Clarke said he was “very clear” that courts would not become theatre and that filming would be limited to judges’ remarks only.

The ban on filming would be lifted as soon was possible in the parliamentary calendar, he told MPs.

“Initially we will allow judgments in the Court of Appeal to be broadcast for the first time and we will expand this to the Crown Court in due course,” Clarke said.

“We will not allow filming of jurors, victims and witnesses under any circumstances. So far as the judge is concerned, giving a sentence or a judgment, he is a public official forming a public function. His words can be quoted, he will be reported and there is no real reason why he shouldn’t be filmed.

“But other people need to be protected because otherwise the whole nature of the proceedings will change. Some people will be intimidated and some people will have their behaviour affected.”

Responding to concerns from Rhondda Labour MP Chris Bryant that defendants could use any appearance of television to launch spurious and damaging attacks on their victims, he said that was another reason why any filming in courts would be strictly controlled.

Clarke added: “I strongly disprove any attempt for this to be used for people to make allegations against the victims or for the defendant to make a theatrical display in the witness box or for the jurors’ reaction to be filmed or anything of this kind.

“We are talking about the judgments and what is said as part of his official duties by the judge and at this stage I am not contemplating going any further.”

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