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Enabling Justice to Be Seen to Be Done

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We have reached a landmark moment for open justice and our legal system here in England and Wales. Starting today the ban on filming in the courts is lifted and broadcasters can film proceedings in the Court of Appeal.

New legislation has overturned a near-century long ban on filming in court. It follows a long campaign that I've been involved in with others across the broadcast industry. Before 1925 photographs were sometimes taken in court - for example in the case of Dr Crippen on trial for murder. Since then the public has not been able to see inside the court without being there in the public gallery.

The campaign to bring about the change has been a long process. Here in England we have watched the issue of cameras in court take off in many jurisdictions around the world. Regularly ITN - the news organisation I work for - shows footage in its news programmes from courts outside England and Wales - for example the case of Anders Breivik in Norway. Here we're limited to court sketches to show images from the court.

Not before time have we reached this point where change is happening. It's been brought about following a Pilot study in 2005 where filming was allowed in the Court of Appeal, from filming in public inquiries such as the Leveson Inquiry and developments such as tweeting from court. Since 2009 the Supreme Court has been filmed due to its former connection to Parliament, including a live stream on the internet. All these developments have progressed the issue and all have shown that using modern means of communication do not disrupt proceedings.

The broadcasters have always stated that cameras in court will have significant public benefit and give real effect to the right to see justice being done. There will be greater understanding of our justice system on issues such as sentencing or what happens in a court, it will better prepare the public if they have to appear as a witness or juror. Interestingly the move that led to the change occurred shortly after the summer riots in 2011. The Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke said at the time: "What the riots really illustrate is the need to make sentencing and other areas of the judicial system more transparent, so that the public can understand the decisions that have been reached."

In Scotland there have been major developments that move well ahead of the court system in England and Wales. This year a full murder trial in Scotland has been broadcast on Channel 4, including witnesses and comments between lawyers during the case. Last year a sentencing hearing for murder was also televised. This week the Scottish courts issued a consultation on expanding the ability to film in court.

The mechanics of filming here in the Court of Appeal is that five courts are wired and footage can be shown 'as live', with a seventy second delay. There is a mobile film unit that fits into the court furniture that can be wheeled in to film in other courts. Only one court can be filmed at a time. The filming is carried out by a court video journalist jointly funded by the BBC, Sky, ITN and the Press Association.

As to what will be shown, this will be down to normal editorial judgements and the broadcasters will naturally focus on newsworthy cases. In the Court of Appeal this is likely to be high profile appeals against sentence, miscarriages of justice and judicial review appeals against the decisions of politicians. The rules state the film can only be shown in a news and current affairs context, similar to Parliament. Broadcasters will also draw upon their experience of filming in the Court of Appeal Pilot study of 2005.

It's important to note that the development today in England and Wales is a small step in many ways: cameras are in the appeal court (not in a trial court), filming is only of lawyers and judges - not the public, witnesses and the defendant. There are strict restrictions on what can be filmed and the judge retains control as to whether any filming takes place at all.

But it is also a big step because it opens the possibility for trial courts to be filmed. This new dawn will be closely watched by the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and the broadcasters to see whether there is a case for showing footage from inside a trial - not necessarily gavel to gavel coverage but for example the sentence after a jury has reached a guilty verdict.

The filming in the Court of Appeal also can be seen in the context of the broader issue of openness in the courts. Are our courts open enough? Should more be done to make it easier to access court papers? Should journalists be allowed to tape record what is said in court? If you can film in the Court of Appeal why not the High Court? There are many issues still to be addressed.

So an important step forward for open justice is about to begin. Filming in the Court of Appeal will show that televising proceedings enables justice to be seen to be done. I'm certain we will look back soon and say the cameras have become part of the fabric of the court and question why the cameras were kept out of court for so long.

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