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Pilot scheme to allow cameras into Crown Courts for the first time

A three-month pilot scheme allowing filming in Crown Courts has been proposed by the Ministry of Justice in a bid for more “openness and transparency” in the legal system.  Pending approval from the House of Commons cameras would be allowed to film the sentencing remarks of judges at the pilot courts of the Old Bailey, Southwark, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds and Cardiff.  Footage from the pilot scheme would not be broadcast, but would be used to assess whether such footage should be broadcast live. Only the judge will be filmed and the filming of all other court users including staff, victims, witnesses, defendants and advocates will remain prohibited.

A Statutory Instrument was laid in the House of Commons on 21 March 2016 and the pilot schemes will commence once the legislation has passed through Parliament. Certain proceedings from the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have allowed filming since 2013 and 2009 respectively. The same broadcasters (BBC, Sky, ITN and Press Association) have agreed to support the pilot period in the same way and no expense to the public purse will be incurred.

Whether this pilot marks the way for further criminal proceedings to be filmed is a fear noted by legal commentators. Writing in the Guardian in 2013 Helena Kennedy QC voiced her concerns about the motives of the television companies in their campaign to film in the courts for over 20 years noting that “Television is constantly looking for new terrain to inhabit, but it seeks the salacious and the sensational, not the arcane arguments of the highest courts. It wants the sight of a celebrity in the dock. It wants the image of Stuart Hall being sentenced for sexual offences”.


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