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Sentencing on screen: judges’ remarks to be broadcast from Crown court

By Jemma Slingo

Television crews will be allowed into Crown courts to broadcast judges’ sentencing remarks under draft legislation to be laid by the government today.

The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 will permit the sentencing remarks of High Court and senior circuit judges in certain criminal cases to be filmed and broadcast to the public. This is the first time cameras will be allowed in Crown courts in England and Wales. Some Court of Appeal and Supreme Court cases are already live-streamed.

According to the Ministry of Justice, recording will be restricted to sentencing remarks and no other court user – including victims, witnesses, jurors and court staff – will appear on camera. There will also be a short delay to live broadcasts to avoid breaches of reporting restrictions. Television crews will bring their own equipment so cameras will not be installed in courtrooms, the MoJ said.

Robert Buckland QC MP, lord chancellor, said: ‘This government, alongside the judiciary, is committed to improving public understanding of our justice system and allowing cameras into the Crown court will do just that. It will ensure our courts remain open and transparent and allow people to see justice being delivered to the most serious of offenders.’

The draft legislation follows a three-month pilot that allowed not-for-broadcast sentencing remarks to be filmed in eight Crown courts. According to the MoJ, when broadcasting starts will depend on the passage of the legislation.

Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, warned that the legislation could turn sentencing into an ‘armchair, spectator sport’. She 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.

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

Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, said: ‘Done sensitively, and with the appropriate reporting restrictions, broadcasting from the courts during some proceedings – such as sentencing – could add significant value and assist in the rule of law being respected.

‘Which proceedings are broadcast must be always be considered carefully. It is important to avoid putting the fairness of trials at risk – or to create undue stress for defendants, witnesses, and victims alike.’

Campaigners fighting miscarriages of justice said the reforms do not go far enough, however. Emily Bolton, director of law charity Appeal, said: This proposal…will lead to only a fraction of what goes on in our courts being visible to the public.

‘For real transparency that will allow miscarriages of justice to be exposed, the Ministry of Justice must also end the reckless destruction of trial audio recordings after just seven years and make transcripts accessible and affordable.’

Earlier this week, the master of the rolls, Sir Terence Etherton MR, said he was keen to allow the live-streaming of family cases which reach the Court of Appeal, a practice which is currently forbidden.

‘There are some family cases that are really important…and people want to know how we are doing things. The motive for live-streaming is people should be able to see how we are doing our job,’ he said.

 (Courtesy: Law Gazette Society)