Top Judge's Fears Over Cameras In Court

Mark White, home affairs correspondent

England and Wales' most senior judge has told Sky News he has serious reservations about the impact television cameras in court would have on the trial process.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge also revealed he met representatives of the three main television news providers, ITN, the BBC and Sky News recently to discuss how the televising of some court proceedings might work.

The meeting follows an announcement by the Justice Secretary in September that the Government planned to overturn the 85-year ban on filming in courts as part of "unprecedented plans to improve transparency".

The main broadcasters are now involved in a detailed consultation process with the Lord Chief Justice to help ensure the move does not hinder the administration of justice.


Lord Judge said he had no objection to the main proposal which would allow television cameras to film legal argument and rulings in civil and criminal cases at the Court of Appeal.

He said he could also see the argument for considering allowing cameras to film the sentencing remarks at the end of criminal trials.

However, the Lord Chief Justice voiced serious concerns about widening the scheme to allow cameras to observe other aspects of the criminal trial process.

Lord Judge said he was particularly concerned about the potential detrimental effect on witnesses.

He said: "I personally have no problems with television cameras being present during the course of argument in the court of appeal and during the course of judgements being given, whether in the criminal or civil division.

"But I do have very significant concerns about the impact of the television cameras on the trial process.


"It is terribly easy to overlook what a difficult situation a witness finds himself or herself in.

"There are enough pressures and the pressure of being on the television alters something about the witness."

While many others in the legal profession have welcomed the partial introduction of television cameras in court, some have voiced concern it risks undermining justice.

Last month, a survey of 700 barristers by The Times newspaper and the Bar Council revealed almost two in three believed cameras should be allowed in court, but that witnesses and jurors should not be shown.

The Justice Secretary has said the move to allow the televising of some court proceedings will apply initially to the Court of Appeal, before possibly allowing the filming of sentencing remarks at crown courts.

Kenneth Clarke said he would ensure the scheme "would not be allowed to give offenders opportunities for theatrical public display".

However, Conservative MP Roger Gale said it risked turning justice into a reality television show.

In September, he said: "I believe that the televising of the closing speeches in the law courts and the passing of sentences will create the same effect as thrusting barristers to seek to impress the media and allow more eccentric members of the judiciary to use the TV platform to address the nation".

The Lord Chief Justice has also revealed that within the next few days he plans to publish the results of a year-long consultation on the use of Twitter in court.

For the past 12 months, journalists have been able to use the social media network to send live updates from inside courtrooms, but only with a judge's permission.

Lord Judge said he had received an "astonishing" response, both positive and negative to his consultation and would publish the results soon.