Lights, camera… and limited action in court

By Jon Slattery

A public consultation on whether television cameras should be
allowed into courts has come down against filming of victims, witnesses
or jurors.

The findings back the views of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer,
and now make it likely that appeal hearings or civil proceedings will
win approval for televising rather than sensational criminal cases.

Lord
Falconer said: “The consultation has provided a wide range of
considered responses, often heartfelt, from individuals and
organisations.

“Their input has confirmed my very strong view
that victims, witnesses and jurors should not be filmed. There remain
powerful reasons and arguments for protecting them, and the justice
process in general, from the impact of cameras and microphones in court.

“I am not announcing any further conclusions or proposals at this stage.”

The
public’s views on whether court proceedings should be broadcast came in
259 responses to a consultation paper published by the Department for
Constitutional Affairs last November. A six-week pilot scheme for
filming cases in the Court of Appeal ran alongside the consultation and
began in the Royal Courts of Justice on 16 November 2004.

The
pilot not-for-broadcast footage, comprised mock news items and
documentaries using courtroom material. It was presented by national
broadcasters to ministers, the senior judiciary and legal professional
bodies.

The DCA said responses to the consultation were divided
roughly into two groups: ● Those who favour broadcasting court
proceedings do so mainly on the grounds of public accessibility and
scrutiny. Most base their support for broadcasting around principles of
open justice, but some are clearly influenced by the belief that they
suffered injustice as a result of the conduct of their case by lawyers,
the judge or the court system in general. In their view, these
experiences would have been exposed or prevented if proceedings were
broadcast.

● Those opposed to broadcasting court proceedings
expressed strong concerns about the protection of participants, the
right to a fair trial and the integrity of the UK judicial system. Some
based their response on their own experience as a participant in
proceedings, especially as a witness, or expressed their concern at the
prospect of being a participant in a broadcast trial. Many others felt
that television was synonymous with entertainment and were worried
about the effects televising might have on proceedings.

In a statement, the Joint Broadcasters’ Working
Group on Televising Courts said: “The broadcasters will study carefully
the responses to the government’s consultation and have noted Lord
Falconer’s remarks about witnesses and victims. We will be liaising
with appropriate victim’s groups and listening to concerns to explain
our responsible approach.

“We remain confident that we can televise the courts responsibly without interfering with the course of justice.

Televising
our courts will bring the benefits of greater openness and public
understanding of our legal system. The broadcasters are pleased that
the initiative to televise parts of the judicial process is moving
forward.”

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