What will TV viewers get to see at world’s most famous court complex?

·4-min read

Cameras will start to roll on Thursday to broadcast a sentencing at the Old Bailey for the first time.

– What will be shown on television?

Only the judge will be visible, there will be no view of the defendant in the dock, lawyers or any other court staff.

– How has the law changed to allow this to happen?

Under the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020, High Court and Senior Circuit judges are permitted to be filmed as they hand out penalties in criminal cases.

Crown Court filming launch
Court No 1 at the Old Bailey in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– Why did this not happen in 2020 when the law was changed?

During the Covid crisis, courts were dealing with the effect on jury trials and the rapid rollout of video link access to court.

– Does the change now mean any member of the public can film in court?

No. It is still prohibited to film or take pictures in court in ordinary circumstances and any member of the public caught doing so risks being found in contempt of court.

This is also true for anyone joining a hearing by video link.

– Why would a member of the public filming court proceedings pose a risk to the administration of justice?

There are many potential dangers.

Vulnerable witnesses and victims could be put off giving their evidence.

A police van carrying members of the Guildford Four arrives at the Old Bailey in London. The four were returning to court after 14 years in jail for a hearing to appeal against their convictions (Michael Stephens/PA)
A police van carrying members of the Guildford Four arrives at the Old Bailey in London. The four were returning to court after 14 years in jail for a hearing to appeal against their convictions (Michael Stephens/PA)

It could increase distress to defendants and victims’ families.

Furthermore, there could be a danger of falling foul of a reporting restriction, particularly in cases involving youths.

– Who will be airing the sentencing remarks?

Sky News, BBC, ITN and the PA news agency will broadcast the footage and make it available online.

– Who is the judge involved in the first case?

Senior Circuit Judge Sarah Munro QC has sat at the Old Bailey since 2017 and has extensive experience in presiding over complex and high profile cases, including homicides.

– What is the first televised sentencing about?

The defendant Ben Oliver, 25, from Bexleyheath, south London, admitted the manslaughter of his grandfather. He is due to be sentenced, having been cleared of the more serious offence of murder following a trial.

– What is the Old Bailey?

The most famous criminal court in the world has been the venue for many of the most infamous cases in British history.

The first “Old Bailey” was built in 1539 for the sum of £6,000 with a new Old Bailey opened in 1774.

Crime and Legal Issues – The Central Criminal Court – Old Bailey – London
A general view of the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey (Ian Nicholson/PA)

It became the Central Criminal Court by Act of Parliament in 1834 and still occupies the site of Newgate Prison, which stood for 800 years.

It remains the property of the Corporation of London.

– How will it be decided which high-profile cases to cover next?

The group of broadcast media will be able to apply to film and broadcast sentencing remarks, with the judge deciding whether to grant the request.

– Will there be cameras in any other Crown Courts in England and Wales?

The first sentencing will be at the Old Bailey, but sentences will be televised from other high-profile Crown Courts.

– Which judges can be filmed?

They will be either High Court or Senior Circuit judges sitting in the Crown Court.

– Will the the judge still wear traditional gown and wig on television?

Yes. Judges and barristers still wear wigs in court, even though there was a brief relaxation of the rules for video link hearings during the pandemic.

Judges Service ceremony
Members of the judiciary (Victoria Jones/PA)

Some say wigs are old fashioned and should be scrapped, but many consider them essential to maintain formality and respect for the court, while differentiating lawyers from the general public.

– How do televised sentencings benefit the general public?

People will experience the courtroom setting first-hand and see and hear judges explain the reasoning behind their sentences.

– And how does this benefit the criminal justice system?

The jury system relies on ordinary members of the public, who may have had little or no previous experience of the legal system before being called for jury service.

Better understanding of what happens in court promotes confidence.

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