Could British Trials Appear On TV In US Style Footage? Chief Prosecutor Backs Calls To Allow Cameras Into The Courtroom

Director of public prosecutions welcomed 'transparency' of filming in court

  • Alison Saunders said cameras allowed the public to see 'justice being done'

  • Comments come after live broadcast of Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa 

  • By Emma Glanfield for MailOnline

    Published: 06:22 EDT, 25 October 2014 | Updated: 12:29 EDT, 25 October 2014

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    Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions (pictured), has welcomed the ‘transparency’ of filming in court and said it could have 'real benefits'

    Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions (pictured), has welcomed the ‘transparency’ of filming in court and said it could have 'real benefits'

    Criminal trials in Britain could appear on TV after the chief prosecutor in England and Wales revealed she could see ‘real benefits’ of allowing cameras into courtrooms.

    Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, welcomed the ‘transparency’ of filming in court and said it had the potential to allow the public to ‘see justice being done’.

    Her comments came after senior judges in Britain were left divided over the benefits of airing live criminal trials – a debate sparked by the broadcast of the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa.

    Speaking at an event held by the Howard League for Penal Reform at law firm Clifford Chance in London, Mrs Saunders told The Times: ‘Open justice is about letting the public see justice being done and I can see real benefits of trialling cameras in criminal courts, as long as the right protections and safeguards are in place.

    ‘I am doing a lot of work to improve the court experience of victims and witnesses and where cameras in the courtroom would not disrupt this, or any other aspect of a trial, I would welcome the transparency, and indeed scrutiny, they could bring.’

    A ban on cameras in courtrooms in England and Wales was introduced in 1925, although permission was granted last year to show civil and criminal cases at the Court of Appeal.

    The rules in Scottish courts differ and a murder trial was allowed to be filmed last year after permission had been sought from all participants, including the defendant.

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    In comparison, in America, 38 of the 50 states allow TV cameras into criminal and civil courts, providing that the judge agrees. The relaxed rules have allowed millions to watch infamous trials like OJ Simpson's in 1995.

    Sentencing in major trials and criminal appeals, which are heard by senior judges without juries, has the potential for pulling in large audiences.

    However, while Mrs Saunders and Lord Neuiberger of Abbotsbury, the president of the Supreme Court, have both come out in favour of cameras in courtrooms, other judges have expressed their reservations.

    Scroll down for videos 

    The South African trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was broadcast live around the world earlier this year

    The South African trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was broadcast live around the world earlier this year

    The athlete's trial (above) was given the go-ahead to be screened live in a ruling by a Pretoria high court judge 

    The athlete's trial (above) was given the go-ahead to be screened live in a ruling by a Pretoria high court judge 

    'LANDMARK MOMENT FOR JUSTICE'

    Almost a year ago exactly, TV cameras filmed a case in one of the highest courts in the country for the very first time.

    On October 31 last year, viewers watched the Prime Minister’s brother Alex Cameron, QC, attempt to reduce the sentence of the ringleader of a coin-forging gang at the Court of Appeal.

    It was the first time cameras had been allowed in the Royal Court of Justice since 1925 and was described as a 'landmark moment for justice and journalism’.

    The case was broadcast live on BBC and Sky News and screened live on ITV and C4 websites.

    It came after f ive courtrooms at the Court of Appeal were given discreet fixed cameras to be operated by a court video journalist who has both legal and journalistic qualifications. 

    Lawyers’ arguments and judges’ summing up, decisions and – in criminal cases – sentencing remarks may be filmed but victims, witnesses and defendants will not be filmed.

    The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, aired his concerns about the Pistorius trial and ordered a report on it following its broadcast.

    The South African trial of the Paralympian was given the go-ahead to be broadcast in a televised ruling in a Pretoria high court.

    Prior to the trial, which saw Pistorius jailed for five years for killing his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, Judge Dustan Mlambo said it was vital that impoverished South Africans who feel ill-treated by the justice system be given a first-hand look at the trial.

    'The justice system is still perceived as treating the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and the vulnerable,' he said.

    'Enabling a larger South African society to be able to follow first-hand criminal proceedings which involve a celebrity, so to speak, will go a long way into dispelling these negative and unfounded perceptions.'

    Others who have expressed their concerns about British court cases being televised include the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.

    He has previously said filming a sentencing could spark chaos in a courtroom.

    'I'm very troubled about having cameras just swanning around,' he said.

    The 71-year-old has also told how lifting the 90-year-old filming ban could encourage hecklers to yell abuse or even cheer knowing it will be broadcast across the country.

    He said that while he was ‘perfectly happy’ with cameras being taken into court ‘provided their presence doesn't increase the risk that justice won't be done', he opposed the filming of the actual sentencing.

    ‘I take a very strong view about sentencing,’ he added. 

    REAL-LIFE SCOTTISH MURDER TRIAL BROADCAST ON TV IN DOCUMENTARY

    A Scottish murder trial became the first British criminal court case to be aired live on TV in 90 years.

    In an unprecedented move, a film crew was allowed access to an entire case - including the moment a businessman was convicted of murdering his wife.

    Cameras have been banned within the precincts of court since 1925, but Channel 4 was granted permission to follow the six-week retrial of Nat Fraser at the High Court in Edinburgh in 2012.

    After three years of negotiation, the Scottish High Court gave the Channel 4 documentary team permission to film the judge, lawyers, defendant and witnesses during the high-profile retrial of Fraser who was accused of killing his wife Arlene.

    The two-hour documentary, called The Murder Trial, was broadcast on July 9 last year.

    A TV crew was allowed to film the re-trial of Nat Fraser who was accused and convicted of murdering his wife Arlene. Six cameras were allowed in the Edinburgh courtroom for the first time since 1925 Fraser was accused of hiring a hitman to murder his estranged wife (pictured), who vanished from her home in Elgin, Moray, in April 1998

    A TV crew was allowed to film the re-trial of Nat Fraser (left) who was accused and convicted of murdering his wife Arlene (right). Six cameras were allowed in the Edinburgh courtroom for the first time since 1925

    Bafta-winning filmmaker director Nick Holt, who directed the documentary, said it was right that the public were given greater access to the court system.

    TV crews used six remotely-controlled cameras to capture all of the unfolding drama within the court room.

    Fraser was accused of hiring a hitman to murder his estranged wife, who vanished from her home in Elgin, Moray, in April 1998.

    Her body has never been found, there was no weapon, no crime scene and her husband appeared to have a cast iron alibi for the day she disappeared. 

    He was first brought to trial in 2003 for her murder and was found guilty.

    However, he argued that the trial was a miscarriage of justice and challenged the verdict in the highest courts in the land. The case became a cause celebre.

    Eventually, after years of protesting his innocence, the conviction was quashed in 2011.

    In April 2012, Fraser was sent back to the High Court in Edinburgh for a fresh trial, 14 years after his wife’s disappearance, and was found guilty of murder for a second time.

    Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2807464/Could-British-trials-appear-TV-style-footage-Chief-prosecutor-backs-calls-allow-cameras-courtroom.html

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