Ban on filming in British courts to be lifted

Legislation allowing television cameras into major criminal trials to be announced in May

Television cameras are to be allowed into courts for the first time to film the sentencing of serious criminals.

The move, to be announced in the Queen's Speech in May, is designed to reduce the "mystique" of courtrooms and their sometimes arcane jargon, and to help the public re-engage with the criminal justice system.

Ministers and lawyers support the initiative and victims' groups have given it a guarded welcome, but some observers warn that broadcasters will inevitably concentrate on the most salacious and gruesome trials.

Under the plans, cameras will only be allowed in court to record judges' summing-up at the end of trials, as well as the sentencing. Broadcasters will not be permitted to film other parts of a trial, such as barristers' opening and closing statements or the cross-examination of witnesses – preventing showboating by lawyers, defendants and witnesses. Nor will be cameras be present at the moment when juries deliver their verdict.

Whitehall sources confirmed last night that the plans would be included in the Queen's Speech on 9 May, stressing they would be strictly limited, introduced first in Court of Appeal proceedings and then in Crown Court prosecutions. They said the Government was determined to stop trials becoming US-style television spectacles and to protect the identities of witnesses, victims and jury members.

Photography is banned in courts under a parliamentary Act of 1925 – four years before the first television broadcast in Britain.

The initiative – strongly supported by David Cameron – follows lobbying by the BBC, ITN and Sky News. In a joint letter last month they argued: "The ability to witness justice in action, in the public gallery, is a fundamental freedom. Television will make the public gallery open to all."

Supporters argue that public awareness of the judicial system has been piqued by the hacking scandal – through the Leveson Inquiry and the appearances of Rupert and James Murdoch before Parliament.

Televised proceedings have also been backed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, because it would allow the public to "see justice".

John Battle, head of compliance at ITN, said the reform would bring England and Wales into line with many other countries, including Scotland, where cameras have been allowed in courts under limited circumstances for nearly 20 years. "The public in this country see justice being done all over the world but they don't see it in their own," he said. "It will bring greater engagement between the public and the judicial system."

Baroness Kennedy, a barrister and Labour peer, said she backed allowing cameras into civil hearings, such as the Leveson Inquiry, but had "considerable reservations about cameras in criminal courts". She said: "These cases are salacious, they catch the public imagination and so it will be cases that are titillation, that are gruesome and I think it actually isn't conducive to justice.

"What happens is people tune into the small bits that appear in the news and think they know what the case is about and in fact haven't heard all the evidence. The cameras don't stay for the difficult, complicated stuff... So they don't get the complete picture but they think they do."

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture Select Committee, said the public had benefited from being able to view its high-profile hearings. "It is a fundamental principle of justice seen to be done," he said.

A spokesman for Victim Support said: "There may be a case for broadcasting some trials, or parts of trials, but witnesses in criminal trials should never appear on camera against their wishes. The justice system does need to be more transparent and accessible. But this does not mean that court cases should become a new form of reality TV. Any move towards an increased role for the media needs safeguards to protect victims and witnesses."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Open justice is a longstanding and fundamental principle of our legal system. Justice must be done and be seen to be done if it is to command public confidence. The Government and judiciary are determined to improve transparency and public understanding of courts. That is why we announced in September that we are planning to remove the ban... as soon as parliamentary time allows."

In the frame: Why ban came in

Concerns about newspapers publishing sensationalist photographs of notorious murderers led to the ban on cameras in court 100 years ago.

The most famous case was in 1912 when Frederick Seddon, convicted of poisoning one of his tenants, was filmed being sentenced to death. Similar cases followed, and in 1925 photography was banned by Parliament – along with the practice of making sketches inside a court, meaning that to this day legal artists have to move to another building before drawing their pictures of defendants, witnesses and judges from memory.

The Criminal Justice Act 1925 came to be interpreted as a ban on filming as well as taking still photographs.

Rob Hastings

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition