A first for British television as cameras are allowed into Court of Appeal - and even the PM was glued (although his brother did have a leading role)

Donald Macintyre witnesses the latest in reality TV – the first ever screening of Court of Appeal proceedings

It was more than a little like travelling back in time. Cameras have been banned in the courts (apart from the Supreme Court, a recent invention and one in which the judges don’t even wear wigs and robes) since the Criminal Justice Act of 1925. But anybody who had wandered into a public gallery of the Royal Courts of Justice in the mid-1920s would have found the first-ever televised Court of Appeal proceedings instantly recognisable.

Partly of course it was the case itself. Counterfeiting coins is as old as money itself, and the application to appeal by Kevin Fisher against a seven-year sentence for his role in a plot to forge one-pound coins on what the trial judge had described as “very substantial scale” would have been entirely familiar. Was it not such a counterfeiter whom Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson ran to ground in the Conan Doyle story “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs”?

But it was also the almost excruciating politeness, especially on the part of Fisher’s counsel, Alexander Cameron, who happens to be the Prime Minister’s elder brother.

The broadcasters, while justly emphasising what a historic moment this was after years of tortuous negotiations to get cameras into the courts, kept half-apologising that the case was one that would not normally be of much interest. They needn’t have done. How else would we have seen in action the QC whom at Eton his younger brother, had, by his own account, looked up to, and perhaps been somewhat in awe of? 

As David Cameron, who watched his brother’s appearance on his iPhone on a train to Wolverhampton, noted, the “noise and atmosphere” of the Court of Appeal was “rather different” from that of Prime Minister’s Questions. And how. At one point Lord Justice Pitchford, presiding, interrupted the barrister to dispute his contention that since one of Fisher’s co-defendants had received a much lighter sentence, his own client’s should be shortened.

His collaborator might have been “fortunate, but the fact that he was generously treated by the judge doesn’t necessarily mean the sentence imposed on the applicant is unfairly disparate”. Cameron, his voice a little plummier, his face and figure a little fuller, than his younger brother’s, replied swiftly: “My Lord, I completely agree with that….”, before going on with consummate courtesy to add that the difference between two and seven years was nevertheless “too great a difference for the Court, in my respectful submission, to accept”.

For a second you wildly imagined his brother saying at the despatch box: “I completely agree with the Leader of the Opposition on that point, but perhaps if he considers it in a slightly different way….” or some such. And unimagined it pretty quick.

So this was hardly big box office. Yet for all the lack of excitement generated – say – by the live coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, it was a breakthrough moment.

There has long been a disjunction over the fact that those few who have the time can watch court proceedings from the public gallery but not on TV. James Harding, director of news and current affairs for the BBC, which with ITN, Sky News and the Press Association had successfully persuaded in 2011 the then Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to lift the filming ban, was surely right to describe it as a “landmark moment for justice and journalism” which would help viewers to a better understanding of the judicial system in England and Wales.

The other constant since the 1920s is the pleasantly old-fashioned language – such as the repeated use of the near archaic “one” by the QC. Cameron, whose colleagues from his chambers, Three Raymond Buildings, were representing some of the defendants, including Charlie Brooks, in a rather higher profile hearing across at the Old Bailey, was citing an earlier case as a precedent for shortening his client’s sentence: “So my Lords, there one has someone who is doing all the things one would be doing if one was a prime instigator of a whole operation, part of which includes custody and distribution [of forged coins] which was all the applicant was concerned with...”.

But the presence of Cameron, who said he had been “surprised” to be pleading his case on live TV and had only learnt that he would be doing so the previous day, was not the only point of interest. We learnt a bit about the forgers’ world: the 20 cardboard boxes each containing 1,000 counterterfeit coins, and the brown blank metal discs (nearly 1.5 million of them) that had been used as evidence against Fisher; the “purchase of special equipment, ink and foil, memory sticks”; the use of “pseudonyms and front companies” in one earlier case. And in another case, the difficulties one set of forgers had found in getting the right quality paper to fake $6m worth of banknotes. And in this case, the car swapping – or as Lord Justice Pitchford put it, the “anti-surveillance attempts” Fisher’s forgery ring had mounted, including on his fateful journey from his home in Hertfordshire to where he was arrested at Park View Farm in Essex.  

It must have been an odd day for Fisher, who was not in court but may still have been able to see the proceedings – and their outcome – in real time. But also a disappointing one. After briefly withdrawing to consider what had really been little more than an oral supplement to Cameron’s written submission, Lord Justice Pitchford announced that he was rejecting his grounds for appeal. So a bad day for Kevin Fisher. But a great day, surely, for open justice.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power