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Government considering letting cameras into courts

Tuesday, 6 September, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

A campaign by Sky News to allow filming of parts of courtroom trials looks like it may succeed after the Prime Minister was rumoured to be on the point of making an announcement.

If the judge was present this photo would be illegal

John Ryley, Head of Sky News, wrote to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke recommending that the 81 year ban on cameras in the courtroom should be overturned. His plans will only involve the filming of sentencing remarks at the end of a trial, meaning that British courtrooms will not become the equivalent of Judge Judy.

“The public is unsurprisingly confused by the discrepancies in some of the sentences handed down to those involved in the rioting and looting,” said Mr Ryley.

“I believe that if television cameras were allowed to broadcast the remarks made by judges when they pass sentence, it would go a long way to making the process more transparent and would dramatically improve public confidence in the system.”

Sky News was joined by ITN and the BBC in calling for the ban to be overturned. All three media organisations are looking at starting a judicial review.

Currently the only method for media organisations to create accurate reports of court hearings is to send a reporter in with a notebook and pen. Making audio recordings of court proceedings carries a summary prison sentence of up to 6 months, as 85-yr-old WW2 Royal Navy veteran Norman Scarth found out to his cost. He was imprisoned following a summary hearing, which is a brief hearing before a trial judge without legal representation or a jury.

It is also illegal to take a photograph or even make a drawing of any person in or near a courtroom. Court artists, who produce sketches of court scenes, must memorise the scene and then leave the building to avoid breaking the law.

Although more senior courts – above magistrate level – do make recordings of proceedings and have their own note-takers, these notes are never made available to the public.

The only exception to all of the above is the Supreme Court, which does allow TV cameras in for selected parts of hearings. The live feed is operated by Sky News, although the Supreme Court will not sit again until October.

A petition against the courtroom recording ban has been set up by various campaigners.

What do you think? Should cameras and tape recorders be allowed in courtrooms? Have your say in the comments box below.

  1. Wednesday, 7 September, 2011 at 1:19 AM

    Thanks for mentioning Norman Scarth. He is back in court Sept 9 – 10.30 at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London. Room 5. We very much need people, including the media to attend. Mr. Scarth is a sacrificial lamb for the lifting of a ban on recording court hearings.

    Mr. Scarth is suffering terribly in solitary confinement and being denied some of his prescription medications. It is a shocking affair.

    Twitter @freenorman

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