Broadcasters are going to have an uphill struggle to convince the Government that television cameras should be given access to headline grabbing criminal court cases.
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, made it clear this week when unveiling the Broadcasting Courts consultation paper that he was concerned at the impact of filming on witnesses, victims and jurors in criminal cases.
He said: “I am not prepared to contemplate changes that could worsen or jeopardise the position of witnesses, victims or jurors or make them reluctant to appear.”
Lord Falconer added: “We want to ensure that people can see that justice is done but it is even more important to ensure that justice is done.”
The deputy chief justice, Lord Justice Judge, suggested there should be a broad consensus that any process that made witnesses less likely to come forward or inhibited about what they or victims may say in court, was unacceptable.
This does not rule out the possibility of the openings, defence case or sentencing in criminal cases being televised.
If filming of criminal cases remains banned it would still leave scope for the cameras to be allowed into appeal and civil hearings.
The publication of Broadcasting Courts follows a pledge by Lord Falconer, made at the Edinburgh Television Festival in August, to hold a public debate on the issue.
Cameras have been subject to a blanket ban in courts since 1925.
However, parts of the Hutton Inquiry were televised and cameras have been allowed into courts in Scotland on a limited basis.
This week a pilot scheme for filming cases in the Court of Appeal began. The pilot footage is not for broadcast.
Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the Society of Editors, welcomed the experiment and the consultation.
“Quite clearly it is an essential part of justice that it should be seen to be done.
“Anything that throws more light on the courts and makes justice more public is good news.
“I am not expecting an overnight miracle. This is a first toe in the water of using modern communications to make justice more accessible and for it be seen to be done in public.
“There are difficulties in putting cameras into criminal courts but hopefully some of the concerns about filming in courts will be taken away during the consultation.”
A copy of Broadcasting Courts is available from the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
The consultation will end on 28 February.
By Jon Slattery