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Lights, camera, courtroom! Sentencing in high-profile criminal cases to be televised for first time

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But bar chiefs warn against legal proceedings becoming a ‘spectator sport’

Television cameras will be allowed to broadcast from Crown Courts in England and Wales for the first time, the government announced today.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said new legislation being laid before parliament will allow cameras to broadcast the sentencing remarks of High Court and senior circuit judges in some of the most “high-profile” courts across the country.

The MoJ added that it will be restricted to sentencing remarks only and no other court user — including victims, witnesses, jurors and court staff — will be filmed.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC MP said: “This government, alongside the judiciary, is committed to improving public understanding of our justice system and allowing cameras into the Crown Court will do just that.”

He added: “It will ensure our courts remain open and transparent and allow people to see justice being delivered to the most serious of offenders.”

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

But today’s decision hasn’t gone down well with some sections of the legal profession.

The Bar Council said “reality TV-style” broadcasting comes with risks that need to be guarded against, adding that sentencing must not become a “spectator sport”.

While acknowledging it will help people understand the realities of our criminal justice system, chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC, said “the public may well not fully appreciate why a particular sentence has been given without seeing the evidence presented during trial”.

She continued: “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.”

Filming of court proceedings has taken place for some time in the Supreme Court, but only since 2013 have certain proceedings in the Court of Appeal been selected for broadcast.

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4 Comments

Alan Robertshaw

Subject to proper safeguards I think I’m marginally in favour of this. At least to the extent of giving it a try.

It’s a bit of a bugbear of mine that legal proceedings are nearly always reported inaccurately, or without proper context.

Transparency in sentencing sounds like a good idea. Especially as there’s an oft repeated experiment where members of the public are given the facts of a case, together with the relevant mitigation. They are asked to suggest (a) what sentence the judge gave; and (b) what sentence *they* would have imposed. Generally both are lower than the actual sentence. So this might be an interesting educational opportunity. Albeit for a small audience I suspect.

A A

That’s pretty optimistic. I would be astonished if this did not end up supplying tasty little 5-second soundbites dished up to the public on TV news channels…

Anon

Already happens in Scottish courts under similar circumstances.

Diane Abbot

But if the rest of the proceedings aren’t televised I don’t see how that can be helpful to increasing transparency, especially since the judge’ssummary of the facts can be subjective.

Just watching the sentencing is basically the same as reading the published sentencing report so there seems to be no utility other than allowing bored people to watch.

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