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Law Column: Limited recording and broadcasting allowed in Crown Courts


It has long been the case that the Crown Courts’ doors have been shut to cameras of any sort – but the introduction of The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 represents a small but important first step away from that principle.

The Order came into force last month and allows the recording and broadcasting of the Judge’s sentencing remarks, which are made in open court. The recording will only show the Judge and only those with permission from the Lord Chancellor will be able to undertake the recording. The copyright in the recording will then be assigned to the Lord Chancellor, acting on behalf of the Crown.

There are, of course, several hoops to jump through, in that permission for the recording has to be obtained in writing from the Judge, and the Judge is able to impose any conditions that he or she deems fit. There is no right to appeal a Judge’s decision in relation to filming, and any reporting restrictions from the case will also have to be observed.

Any report or presentation including the recording must be fair and accurate, bearing in mind the context of the report and how it is presented. Unsurprisingly, the recordings cannot be broadcast as part of party-political broadcasts, used for advertising, light entertainment, or satire.

It is envisaged that most recordings will be broadcast during news programmes later in the day, but in any case, any live broadcasts will have a ten second delay in order that reporting restrictions are not breached, and mistakes are not broadcast.

The complete footage of the sentencing remarks will be easily accessible to the public online in order that the remarks can be viewed in their full context, according to the Hansard record from the House of Lords.

The purpose of the Order is to increase transparency and open justice, enabling the public to gain a better understanding of the justice system. How much impact this small change will have is yet to be seen, as there is only so much that can be understood from the sentencing remarks, without having heard the rest of the case. However, it is being hailed by many as a step in the right direction for open justice and transparency in a digital age.

Some commentators have criticised the move, saying there’s a risk of Judges becoming celebrities or of our justice system becoming sensationalist. We will have to wait and see whether either of these criticisms materialise.

Of course, without having seen the Order working in practice yet, there are many unanswered questions about the practicalities of how the filming can take place, who counts as a “broadcaster” and to what extent the recordings can be broadcast online or on social media, as well as in traditional televised news programmes.

Campaigners for cameras in Courts (who are usually from TV broadcasters) are hailing the change, as they see it as a small step on the way to the televising of full trials. However, it will be really fascinating to see the extent, if any, that online publishers take advantage of the new rules.

Watch this space……