Falconer dismisses call for televised trials

During the first day of a pilot scheme to take cameras into the courts of England and Wales, the opinions of broadcasters and the Lord Chancellor seemed to polarise when Lord Falconer appeared to rule out the broadcast of criminal trials

At a debate to mark the launch of limited filming of appeals at the Royal Courts of Justice in London by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Sky News and ITN, Lord Falconer warned there was “very substantial evidence” that the prospect of televised proceedings would reduce people’s willingness to give evidence.

“Moreover, I believe it would make the process, in many cases, more rather than less distressing for people involved in criminal cases and indeed in civil cases,” he told journalists and television executives on Sunday.

Filming will also cover the Master of the Rolls Court and the Lord Chief Justice’s Court. The minister added that the Department of Constitutional Affairs would launch a consultation document later this year into the issues around introducing cameras into court.

However, John Battle, ITN’s head of compliance, who is co-ordinating the broadcasters’ cooperation with the department, said he thought it “inevitable in future that full trials will be televised”.

He added: “In terms of filming the Crown Court, there’s an argument for filming the opening statements by the prosecution and the summing up by the defence and the sentencing.”

Alistair Bonnington, BBC Scotland’s legal adviser, said some lawyers and judges would be opposed to filming for fear of being exposed as incompetents.

“They have got very many reasons not to let cameras in, because people would realise that so many of them are idiots,” he said.

Simon Ford, executive producer BBC documentaries, hoped broadcasters’ united front on the issue would demonstrate that they can, “with confidence, shine a light on parts of the judicial system which have so far been cloaked in darkness.”

Any overt criticism of Lord Falconer’s stance was left to Catherine Crier, veteran of US-based Court TV, who said there was no evidence that filming had adversely affected the legal process, despite the bad press that the OJ Simpson murder trial brought.

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