‘I don’t see a downside’ – Move to allow tv cameras in courtrooms is welcomed
PUBLISHED: 17:30 16 January 2020 | UPDATED: 17:35 16 January 2020
The historic move to allow TV cameras to film in crown courts in England and Wales for the first time has been welcomed by a former top barrister and Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner.
Legislation is being laid before Parliament today to pave the way for judges' sentencing remarks in serious high-profile criminal cases to be seen and heard by TV and online audiences.
But whole trials will not be televised, only the judge will be filmed, with no other court user, such as witnesses, jurors or staff, being caught on camera.
Former barrister William Clegg QC, from Lavenham, who retired from the bench just 16 days ago, said he didn't see a "downside" to the proposal.
"I definitely think it's a good move," he said. "Anything which allows greater access to the courts should be encouraged.
"It's a very modest change. The judge's sentencing remarks in certain cases will be seen, so people aren't going to watch the trial.
"It's just using a mechanism to get the information out there in a medium that everyone is familiar with in this day and age. I don't see a downside to it."
A three-month pilot has already been carried out where sentencing remarks were recorded in eight crown courts on a not-for-broadcast basis.
The filming can be "live", with a short time delay to avoid breaking any reporting restrictions or any other error.
Tim Passmore, the county's police and crime commissioner, echoed Mr Clegg's comments and said he supported the development.
"Openness and transparency in our criminal justice system is vitally important for public trust and confidence and anything which helps that should be welcomed," he said.
"Many people have very little understanding of the criminal justice system and there is an air of mystery and intrigue about what goes on in our courtrooms.
"I think broadcasting the judge's remarks to a wider audience to improve public understanding is a good idea."
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Mr Clegg, who released his memoirs entitled Under the Wig - A Lawyer's Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocence in 2018, said caution should be exercised over any future discussions on a US-style trial broadcast.
"That's more problematic," he added. "There are potential pitfalls which one has got to be careful of.
"But I have done trials in Europe at the International Court which have been televised and no-one has conducted themselves any differently.
"It has to be carefully organised, I don't think it's right to show the jury. They should have anonymity.
"I can also see why a complainant in a rape case, for example, would want to be protected.
"Suitable protections need to be in place."
Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon has given his approval to the proposal.
He said: "I have pressed for this change since I took office two years ago. The courts are reported by journalists already, but this gives an extra dimension to allow people to see the sentences judges pass on convicted criminals and to understand why they interpret the law and guidelines the way they do in each case."
Amanda Pinto QC, chairman of the Bar Council, raised concerns over potential attacks on judges.
She said: "This initiative will help people understand the realities of our criminal justice system.
"However, given that it is only the judge's sentencing remarks that will be televised, the public may well not fully appreciate why a particular sentence has been given without seeing the evidence presented during trial, the mitigating factors and other relevant information, such as probation reports.
"This is especially the case in a trial where the judge will have seen and heard the victim, the defendant and other witnesses, but the judge's evaluation of them may not be clear from the televised hearing.
"We must guard against unwarranted attacks on judges where the sentence isn't popular with the public.
"'Enemies of the People' type proclamations, where judges have been personally attacked and their independence questioned, simply for doing their job, are completely unacceptable.
"Sentencing must not become an armchair, spectator sport."
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