Isleworth Crown Court on TV

Controversial plans to televise court proceedings

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Isleworth Crown Court could see television cameras showing sentencing for the first time, if controversial new plans go ahead.

This court has seen a number of famous cases over the years and recently Cherie Blair, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, was criticised by Lord Justice Pitchford for handing down a too-lenient sentence to a convicted cocaine smuggler.

Concerns have been expressed about lawyers overplaying their roles for the cameras and whether it is right for the justice system to do this.

The Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke MP said: “While we feel the courts should be opened up, we don’t want to turn it into a show.”

The Lord Chancellor could well have been referring to television programmes, such as Judge Judy, which are popular in the United States of America.

Parliamentarians have remembered that there were similar concerns when Parliament was first televised on ‘The Parliamentary Channel’ in 1992, which later became BBC Parliament. Over time televising parliamentary proceedings has become normal.

Currently, all cameras are banned in court and anyone caught taking a photograph, video or even recording will be ejected and may even face a prison sentence. All images are done through hired sketch artists who look at the scene in court and then leave the court precinct to make their sketch of the defendant to be shown by the media.

There have been discussions about using Twitter in courts. These came to a head when a district judge gave permission to journalists to tweet during the bail hearing of Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge had said any journalist wanting to tweet from the courtroom would need to ask permission from the judge concerned.

The BBC conducted a study in 1998 about cameras in courts and the views seemed to be split.
One said: “I'd rather have the right to elect judges in a democratic vote than the right to watch what they do on TV.”

Another said: “Justice should be seen to be done. But cameras should be used with extreme discretion in court and not be apparent and visible to the pro/antagonists while they plead their cases.”

In the USA there is a channel called ‘Court TV’ which broadcasts entire cases live. An example of this is the famous and highly-controversial OJ Simpson murder trial. However it is not envisaged that anything like it will be seen in this country any time soon.

Tom Moore

September 20, 2011

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