The Bar Council has extended a cautious welcome to proposals to allow TV cameras in court.
Currently, filming is banned in all courts in England and Wales apart from the Supreme Court - Sky News has broadcast a live video stream from the Supreme Court on its website since May.
However, the government has now said it will lift the statutory prohibition on filming in the courts in order to increase public understanding of the justice system. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said filming would be of judges’ summary remarks only. Witnesses, offenders, victims and jurors will not be filmed under the proposals.
Broadcasting will initially be allowed from the Court of Appeal, and the government will then look to expand the scheme to include the Crown Court. Clarke said all changes would be worked out in close consultation with the judiciary, and that he wished to avoid turning the courts into a “legal theatre”.
Peter Lodder QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “It is vital that the judiciary are consulted and that the welfare of victims, witnesses and jury members is taken into account.
“Any broadcasts must be in the public interest and in the interests of justice. Public trust in the criminal justice system may be enhanced by the broadcasting of sentencing remarks.
“All sentencing decisions are explained fully, but the full extent of the judge’s remarks is often unreported.”
Max Hill QC, the new chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “Criminal barristers have nothing to fear from increased public scrutiny, which can only demonstrate the quality and integrity of our profession.
“We do, however, have reservations about the potential broadcast of the trial process itself. Extracts shown in isolation may give a biased impression of a long criminal trial in which the jury have patiently listened to weeks or months of evidence from both the prosecution and defence. We must be cautious about placing any extra pressure on victims and witnesses, or exposing jury members to undue external influence.”