Judges will have the power to stop or prevent TV broadcasts of their sentencing remarks – with no right of appeal if broadcasters are unhappy with their decision.
Further details of how the broadcasts would work in practice emerged yesterday as orders to allow them were debated – and approved – in the House of Lords.
The government confirmed in January it would introduce legislation to permit the remarks of High Court and senior circuit judges in certain criminal cases to be filmed and broadcast to the public.
Addressing peers, justice minister Lord Keen of Elie (Richard Keen QC) sought to assuage concerns about judges playing up to the cameras and insisted those on the bench would have the final say over what can and cannot be filmed.
Lord Keen said: ‘Broadcasters must make an application to film a case, and the trial judge has full discretion to allow or deny the application. Filming will not be permitted if a case is considered unsuitable for broadcast—for example, if it is particularly sensitive in some way—and it will not be possible to appeal a judge’s decision to allow or refuse filming.’
Only those media parties granted permission in writing from the lord chancellor will be able to record proceedings, the minister said and the government will retain copyright of the footage. Any broadcast must present sentencing remarks in a ‘fair and accurate’ way, and any breach of the terms of the order could amount to contempt of court.
While some peers expressed concerns, others pressed the minister on why reforms did not go further to include broadcasting of other aspects of trials.
Liberal Democrat Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (Jonathan Marks QC) said the blanket ban on broadcasting evidence in trials was ‘unsupportable’ and pointed out it was permitted in a number of common law jurisdictions to varying extents – not just the US but also New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
‘While I accept that there are risks in the unlimited broadcasting of lay witness evidence, I am unconvinced that expert evidence needs or ought to be similarly protected,’ he said. ‘More controversially perhaps, I also believe that the public have a right to witness first-hand the conduct of parties’ advocates and the reaction of judges to their conduct of litigation.’