Memo Archive: Smile! You've been court on camera

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Smile! You've been court on camera

Chelsey Stanborough – 15 August 2022

Since the 28th of July this year, TV cameras have been allowed into a small number of criminal courts (Crown Courts and the Old Bailey) in England and Wales for the first time ever. Up until now, the Criminal Justice Act 1925 had restricted all filming in the courtroom. Yet with the recent introduction of the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020, cameras will now be able to film the sentencing of defendants. The fine print includes the caveat that filming all other aspects of the trial remains forbidden, and that victims, jurors and witnesses will not be filmed to protect their anonymity.

The introduction of cameras in the courtroom has generated mixed opinions. On the one hand, Chris Wong (a partner and criminal defence specialist at Howells Solicitors) highlighted that “it is a good idea because often the public rely upon live tweets from inside the court room or live reporting outside the court room, and you get little chunks and snippets of what has been said by the judge... this doesn’t always have the full flavour and feel of what the judge said and why he came to the sentence he did.” There is hope that with better access to the courts and their processes through online platforms like YouTube, the public faith in the justice system will improve.

But others are concerned that accepting cameras into the courts will place a greater emphasis on public perception, rather than justice. Witnesses or victims might be left feeling uneasy about the prospect of being filmed throughout an emotionally charged and stressful process (particularly with serious crime cases), and of course there is the risk that an unhelpful degree of attention will be paid to lawyers’ performance. 

So, what does this mean for future?  Jonathon Munro, director of BBC news, described the recent video of Ben Oliver’s sentencing as “a crucial moment for transparency in the justice system”. But it's only been a singular moment. To fully appreciate the implications of introducing cameras back into the courts, we have to play the long game. One thing, however, is clear: the media’s impact on objectivity in cases and the importance of public justice are likely to keep the legislation in place. For now.