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Britain Could Finally Catch Up By Allowing Cameras in Court

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If the reports are true, and it seems they are, we are on the verge of something quite historic. British broadcasters have finally prised open the door to the last bastion of public life which remains closed to TV cameras, courtrooms.

It appears the Coalition government will announce in May that it intends to overturn the law banning any photography, let alone video, of a court case. It's the result of a campaign by Sky News and the other broadcasters dating back 10 years to effectively open up the public gallery to everyone.

Our argument, put simply, is that every citizen has the right to sit in a court, to view and hear the proceedings but few do because they don't have the opportunity. If you have a day job, or just don't happen to live nearby, it is impractical. The law banning cameras in court was passed in 1925 and was never targeted at television (Britain didn't even have a TV service then). In fact it seems that the main reason for the original law was to clear out photographers with exploding magnesium flash guns. The law is outdated.

Today most people get their information either from TV or the internet in all its forms, where video is rapidly becoming as important as text and pictures. Opponents of televising courts invariably suggest that broadcasters want to turn trials into Judge Judy style entertainment. It is time to nail this disinformation.

Initially we will only be allowed to show legal argument and judgments in the Court of Appeal; no defendants or witnesses. The existing rules governing court reporting (which in Britain are very strict) will also apply: so even if there were juries in the appeal courts, we could not identify them. Down the road, it is probable we will be able to video the sentencing remarks by judges in Crown Court criminal trials. But so far, that is all that is being discussed.

Why has the government decided to overturn a 97-year-old law, when successive previous governments resisted? Chiefly because it has a "transparency agenda" to open up the workings of the system to public scrutiny. The courts are a cornerstone of democracy, and the right of everyone to see justice being done fairly is, in my view, an integral part of that proposition. It's a small start.

Although the Court of Appeal frequently decides important cases of significant public interest, some will doubtless argue that watching lawyers and judges making arcane arguments will make drying paint looks positively dramatic. That's not the point. Our ambition is simply to be able to report more effectively, by showing the protagonists speaking, in their own voices, rather than reporting them second hand.

Finally, it seems, Britain is catching up with most other civilised countries which, to a greater or lesser extent, allow their citizens access to the judicial system through TV.

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