Ministers moot televised court cases

The government is expected to publish plans to allow the televising and broadcasting of court cases by the end of the year.

According to The Times, cameras would be allowed in criminal, civil and appeal court cases, but witnesses, jurors and defendants could ask to remain anonymous.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) refused to confirm or deny the claims but told politics.co.uk that plans “setting out a way forward” would be published before the end of the year.

The department published a consultation on allowing cameras in court in 2004, at which time constitutional affairs secretary Lord Falconer said justice “must be seen to be done”.

But he raised questions about protecting witnesses – to ensure people were not prohibited from giving evidence – and jurors. He stressed there was no compelling argument for opening up children’s courts or those currently closed to the public to TV cameras.

“Cameras in the courtroom would be a big step. We have to make sure that any such
step would benefit justice, not burden justice,” Lord Falconer said.

He added: “Justice being done and being seen to be done is a priority list, not two parts of equal standing. Our watchword in the debate will be clear. Justice should be seen to be done. But our priority must be that justice is done.”

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, supported the idea of removing the absolute ban on filming in court, saying the importance to society of open justice was “considerable”.

However, in its response to the consultation, it stressed that judges must retain the final decision and there must be proper protection for participants in court cases. According to today’s reports, it is likely that defendants would only be filmed if they give consent.

The director of public prosecutions, Ken McDonald QC, has previously said he has “no objection” to filming judges’ sentencing remarks and broadcasting them.

The proposals are likely to take into account the results of a five-week pilot in the court of appeal last year, where cases were filmed but not broadcast.

Under a 1925 law banning the use of still cameras in court, only the law lords’ ruling are currently televised. However, Scottish cases have been allowed to be televised since 1992 providing all parties agree.