Historic moment as TV cameras to film Old Bailey criminal court hearing for first time

·3-min read
Historic moment as TV cameras to film Old Bailey criminal court hearing for first time

The first televised Crown Court sentencing hearing in history is set to take place on Thursday as cameras are allowed back into the criminal courts for the first time in almost a century.

Judge Sarah Munro QC will be filmed as she passes sentence on Ben Oliver for the manslaughter of his grandfather, in court two at the Old Bailey.

This hearing is a landmark moment in the media’s campaign to be allowed to record and broadcast the sentencing remarks of judges in criminal cases.

The law was changed in 2020, in the hope that more public attention on judge’s decisions would better inform the public, and - after a delay in implementation - the manslaughter sentencing of Oliver was chosen as the first case to be filmed.

There are currently no plans to expand the ‘cameras in court’ project beyond the sentencing remarks of judges.

“This is a landmark moment for open justice”, said John Battle, head of legal and compliance at broadcaster ITN and chairman of the Media Lawyers Association, who has spent years spearheading the campaign.

“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.” 

Photography inside the criminal courts was allowed in the past, including when leading Suffragettes were prosecuted in 1908 for smashing windows in protest in the West End.

However the practice was outlawed in the 1925 Criminal Justice Act, restricting viewing of court proceedings to those people physically in the courtroom.

Anyone caught taking pictutes could face Contempt of Court proceedings.

Under the new plans, high-profile sentencing hearings are due to be selected for filming, in a collaboration between Sky, ITN, BBC, and the Press Association.

“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”, said Justice Secretary Dominic Raab.

“The public will now be able to see justice handed down, helping them understand better the complex decisions judges make.”

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon has helped to steer the ‘cameras in court’ project into a reality, and called it “an exciting development”.

Filming has been allowed in the Court of Appeal since 2013, while criminal court proceedings can also be televised in Scotland.

“Sentencing of serious criminal cases is something in which there is a legitimate public interest”, said Lord Burnett, insisting filming will preserve the “solemnity of the proceedings”.

In the inaugural case, Oliver, 25, from Bexleyheath, south London, has admitted the manslaughter by diminished responsibility of 74-year-old David Oliver, in Mottingham, south London, on January 19 last year.

The filming of sentencing remarks is expected to happen at Crown Courts around England and Wales in the future, in cases overseen by a High Court or Senior circuit judge.

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