Cameras To Film Appeal Court After Campaign

Ian Woods, Senior News Correspondent

Legal and broadcasting history will be made later when Sky News' cameras are allowed to film inside the Royal Courts of Justice for the first time.

Permission has been granted to show civil and criminal cases at the Court of Appeal, although there are heavy restrictions on what can be filmed.

Cameras have been banned from courts in England and Wales since 1925.

The rules in Scottish courts are different and earlier this year cameras were allowed to film a murder trial - but only with the permission of all the participants, including the defendant.

Sky News and other broadcasters have been campaigning for a decade for cameras to be allowed to show all trials.

After prolonged negotiations, the Government and the judiciary have agreed to allow cameras inside certain courtrooms.

The move has been welcomed by the Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales, Lord Thomas.

"My fellow judges and I welcome the commencement of broadcasting in the Court of Appeal," he said.

"The Court of Appeal has been open to the public and to journalists for a very long time.

"The bringing of cameras into the Court of Appeal and the recording of its proceedings will enable those to be understood much better by the public as a whole.

"We hope it will increase confidence in the administration of justice."

Sky News, the BBC, ITN and the Press Association have co-operated on the project, and hired a video-journalist who will recommend which are the most interesting cases on a daily basis.

For now, only one courtroom per day can be televised. Matt Nicholls, an experienced court reporter, will place four remotely-controlled cameras in the courtroom before the case begins.

But he is not allowed to show anyone other than the judges and the lawyers arguing the case.

The dock, where the defendant or appellant sits, will be off-limits and there are no witnesses or jurors in the Court of Appeal.

Mr Nicholls said: "There are very strict rules on what we can and cannot shoot.

"You can't show a reaction shot of a judge. You can only show someone when they're actually speaking, so I'll be making sure I get those permitted shots.

"There's no swearing or graphic language, or anything that legally we can't broadcast."

He has the ability to censor the broadcast feed by muting the sound or cutting the video on the direction of the judges.

The portable broadcasting equipment has been designed by Sky News technical staff and the control panel is housed in an oak trolley to try to blend in with the historic courtrooms in which it will sit.

Civil cases can be broadcast almost in real time, though there is a 70-second delay built into the feed to allow for contentious material to be removed.

And criminal appeals must be recorded and only broadcast if a retrial has not been ordered, in case a future jury member becomes familiar with the evidence.

Mr Nicholls added: "The judges have been very keen to see the equipment and see how it works.

"But really we don't want to impact on the court business. We've got the cameras and the equipment, but really we shouldn't be getting in the way."

Sky News Associate Editor Simon Bucks, who has led the negotiations over the introduction of cameras into court, said: "Yes it is quite limited, but it is definitely a first step.

"It's not surprising that both the politicians and the judiciary wanted to do this in baby steps and the Court of Appeal is a good place to start doing this.

"But we're really optimistic that this will work well and it won't be long before we're able to get into criminal trials, initially to hear judges deliver sentencing remarks.

"The first thing we have to do is to show that we can do this thing in the Court of Appeal responsibly and effectively."

But critics fear it could open the door to American-style televised justice.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, a leading barrister who also became a successful broadcaster, told Sky News that while she supports cameras in the Court of Appeal, she opposes the televising of criminal trials.

"The television companies are playing a longer game here," she said.

"They want to get into the higher courts and they will behave perfectly well and most of the nation will doze off because what we lawyers do in the courts discussing the law is not that captivating.

"But they really are playing the game that they want to get into the courts where things are much juicier. What will be picked out will be the most sensational.

"It will be the most salacious and sexual cases. It will be the stuff that is dramatic and enticing and brings in viewing figures."

Andrew Walker QC is a civil law barrister who deals with appeal cases and can expect to be among the lawyers who may find themselves on camera in the months ahead.

He told Sky News that it will have little impact.

"I suspect that most people will get used to it and it will become part of the background," he said.

"It's a fairly polite and rarefied atmosphere in the Appeal Court and that won't change. Judges aren't impressed by anything other than what the real issues are."

But he does not expect it to lead on to televised trials, with defendants and witnesses appearing on screen.

"There's been a long-running debate in America about the televising of trials and there are a lot of views both ways," he said.

"That says a lot, that even in America people are wary and see the difficulties, and here we're likely to be much more careful."

The Government says the new rules are designed to bring greater transparency to the judicial system.

Courts Minister Shailesh Vara told Sky News: "I think this is a landmark occasion for the justice system.

"I don't think we need to worry about this becoming a celebrity issue following the American route.

"For the past two years the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, has been filmed on the internet and we haven't seen any change of behaviour of the judiciary or indeed the lawyers."

Despite the limitations, Mr Nicholls says he hopes the public will find the Appeal Court coverage "eye-opening".

"As an experienced court reporter you do get those dramatic moments in the court where someone's conviction is overturned after a lengthy legal fight, when the people learn of this decision that is going to change their lives," he said.

"Sometimes the arguments might be dry and quite weighty, but you do get those moments of drama as well. All human life is here."

Viscount Hewart, who was Lord Chief Justice for almost 20 years from 1922, originated the phrase about justice not merely being done, but being seen to be done.

Now appeal court judges can be truly seen by everyone when they hand down their judgements.

:: Sky News will be broadcasting proceedings from inside the Court of Appeal from 10.30am - watch coverage on Sky 501, Virgin Media 602, Freesat 202, Freeview 82, and Sky News for iPad.

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