Television cameras set to be allowed into courtrooms

The Queen's Speech is expected to include a change to the law that will allow broadcasters to film sentencing

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A change in the law allowing television cameras to film proceedings in British courtrooms looks likely to go ahead, following indications that it will be part of the government’s annual legislative programme to be announced in the Queen’s Speech in May.

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It is expected that cameras will initially be able to film summing up and sentencing in the court of appeal, with coverage being extended to the crown court if successful.

Broadcasters have long been campaigning for such a move, claiming that a chance to see the law in action would improve the public’s understanding of the justice system. 

In February, the BBC, ITN and Sky News sent a joint letter to MPs calling for the lifting of the ban on television cameras in courtrooms.

“The ability to witness justice in action, in the public gallery, is a fundamental freedom,” said the letter. “Television will make the public gallery open to all. The administration of justice is a key part of a democracy.”

Meanwhile, both Downing Street and the Ministry of Justice have expressed support for the changes. 

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice yesterday told The Independent newspaper: “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.” 

The statement echoed sentiments expressed by justice secretary Ken Clarke last September.

“We believe television has a role in increasing public confidence in the justice system,” said Clarke, adding, “Broadcasting will initially be allowed from the court of appeal, and government will look to expand to the crown court later. All changes will be worked out in close consultation with the judiciary.”

A joint response to the news from the BBC, ITV and Sky News said: “This would be a positive step forward for transparency and democracy and we welcome the opportunity to work with the judiciary to ensure justice can be seen to be done.”

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Proceedings at Westminster’s supreme court are already broadcast live in their entirety but are governed by different laws, since they deal only with legal precedents rather than the cross-examination of witnesses and defendants.