Broadcast news channels will be able to air judges’ sentencing remarks from the U.K. Crown Court for the first time from July 28, following a landmark change in the law by the country’s Ministry of Justice.
The move will allow the public to see and hear judges explain the reasoning behind their sentences, and will open up some of the best-known courts across the U.K., including the Central Criminal Court, which is more commonly known as the Old Bailey.
Only the judge will be filmed during any sentencing that is broadcast, in order to protect the privacy of victims, witnesses and jurors. The sentencing at the Old Bailey on July 28 of Ben Oliver, who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his grandfather in south London, is expected to be the first broadcasted case.
The decision to allow cameras in comes after more than a decade of campaigning by the BBC, ITN and Sky, who were involved in a successful pilot that allowed not-for-broadcast sentencing remarks to be filmed in eight Crown Court sites.
Previously, proceedings were only broadcast from some Court of Appeal cases. The contract has now been extended to the Crown Court. Sky, BBC, ITN and Press Association are now able to apply to film and broadcast sentencing remarks, with the judge deciding whether to grant the request.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said: “Opening up the courtroom to cameras to film the sentencing of some the country’s most serious offenders will improve transparency and reinforce confidence in the justice system. The public will now be able to see justice handed down, helping them understand better the complex decisions judges make.”
The decision has also been welcomed by the broadcasters.
John Battle, head of legal and compliance at ITN, and chair of the Media Lawyers Association said: “This is a landmark moment for open justice. This reform reflects the public’s right to see justice being done in their courts. It will promote better public understanding of the work of the courts and greater transparency in the justice system. Court reporting is vital to democracy and the rule of law and this long overdue change is welcomed.”
John Ryley, head of Sky News, said: “Filming judges’ sentencing remarks in the Crown Court of England and Wales is a victory for the viewer. It will allow for greater transparency in our courts and is something that broadcasters, including Sky News, have campaigned for more than a decade to achieve. Our users and viewers will now be able to see and understand the criminal process and the complexities and constraints under which judges work.”
Interim director of BBC News Jonathan Munro added: “Justice must be seen to be done, so this is a crucial moment for transparency in the justice system — and for our audiences, who will be able to understand the judicial process better by witnessing it for themselves.”
The sentencing remarks of any case recorded will be hosted by Sky News on a dedicated YouTube channel. Footage is subject to the usual reporting restrictions and there will be a 10 second delay when broadcasting live to avoid any breach of restrictions or errors.
This provision is part of the U.K. government’s wider court reform and digitalization program to increase access to justice, including the introduction of video technology to facilitate remote hearings and the use of video-recorded evidence for victims of sexual offences.