Test filming for criminal court sentencings begins as part of 'open justice' initiative with major broadcasters

Old Bailey central crimnal court sign.JPG

Criminal court cases could soon be broadcast into living rooms across the country after a landmark project to explore the viability of filming legal proceedings.

The pilot scheme has seen cameras enter into the heart of the legal system in England and Wales, with broadcasters now filming judges as they sentence convicted defendants in eight Crown courts.

Although the footage from the project will only be sent to the Ministry of Justice and H M Courts and Tribunals Service for consideration, it is hoped that legislation could be passed next year which would allow the footage to be used publicly.

Judges in cities including London, Manchester and Cardiff will have a single camera trained on them and have special microphones set up next to their benches to capture the moment they hand down a sentence to a defendant.

The sentencing at the Old Bailey of Muhiddin Mire for an Islamic State-inspired knife attack at Leytonstone Tube station last year, was being filmed as part of the pilot.

Ahead of the hearing, judge Nicholas Hilliard QC explained: “As part of a pilot project currently being conducted at eight Crown courts in England and Wales, the recordings will be limited to what I say when I pass down sentencing and nothing else will be recorded and nobody else will be filmed.

“It will not be broadcast; it will strictly be recorded for consideration as part of the pilot.”

The pilot scheme is part of an ongoing commitment within the legal world to transparency and the principle of open justice.

Currently the drama of the courtroom is largely recounted from the notepads of journalists, who are forbidden from recording audio or taking pictures within courts and their precincts.

Some Appeal Court and Supreme Court proceedings are already being filmed and broadcast.

Filming has also recently been introduced in the High Court for a number of civil cases.

In Scotland an entire criminal case was filmed and broadcast on Channel 4 in 2013.

Broadcast cameras have long been a staple of the courtrooms in countries including the United States and South Africa, with viewers across the globe glued to their television screens to watch high-profile cases such as the murder trials of OJ Simpson and Oscar Pistorius.

Defendants and witnesses will not be filmed as part of the new scheme in the UK, because of to concerns that it could intimidate people who might have to take part in cases.

The BBC, Sky News, ITN and the Press Association are collaborating on the initiative.

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