TV cameras allowed into Court of Appeal

The moment broadcasting began from the Court of Appeal

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TV cameras have recorded proceedings in one of the highest courts in England and Wales for the first time.

In the first case to be broadcast, the ringleader of a large-scale scam to forge pound coins failed in his bid to appeal against his seven-year sentence.

Filming at the Court of Appeal followed a partial lifting of the long-standing ban on cameras in court.

Lawyers' arguments and judges' comments can appear but defendants, witnesses and victims will not be shown.

Cameras are not yet allowed in crown courts and magistrates' courts.

Senior judges and major broadcasters welcomed the move, which the head of BBC News said was a "landmark moment".

Broadcasters' campaign

The historic first proceedings concerned Kevin Fisher, of Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire, who was jailed in May for his role in what is believed to be the UK's biggest plot to counterfeit pound coins.

Analysis

There has always been something of an "open justice" disconnect between the fact that any member of the public can go and sit in a court but the court's proceedings could not be seen by the wider public watching on television.

However, the cause of cameras in court was not helped by high-profile televised trials abroad, like the sometimes unedifying one of OJ Simpson in America in 1994. It sparked fears of lawyers, judges and even witnesses "showboating" for the cameras, and television coverage focusing on the salacious details of a case at the expense of the evidence as a whole.

The judiciary here has always been particularly concerned that nothing was done that might discourage victims, witnesses and jurors - those vital "cogs" in the justice system that ensure it functions - from taking part in cases. That is why the experiment is being limited initially to the Court of Appeal and is subject to strict limitations.

It marks both an historic change and a cautious first step. But England and Wales remains many years away from a full "OJ Simpson-style" televised criminal trial.

Lord Justice Pitchford refused Fisher's application to appeal against his sentence after hearing submissions from the appellant's barrister Alex Cameron QC, who is the older brother of the prime minister.

Hearings from court four at the Court of Appeal, which started shortly before 11:30 GMT, have finished for the day.

Live broadcasting is possible in five courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice in London after years of campaigning by the BBC, ITN, the Press Association and Sky News. Recordings can be made in 13 others.

Filming has been banned in courts - with the exception of the UK Supreme Court which was set up in 2009 - since the Criminal Justice Act 1925.

Only one courtroom will be covered a day.

The most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, said: "My fellow judges and I welcome the start of broadcasting from the Court of Appeal.

"The Court of Appeal has, of course, been open to the public and to journalists for a long time.

"The change in the law... will help a wider audience to understand and see for themselves how the Court of Appeal goes about its work."

'Significant step'

Safeguards, including a time-delay system operated by a specialist video journalist, will be in place to protect normal court restrictions - such as contempt of court - and broadcasting regulations.

In cases of appeals against conviction where there could eventually be a re-trial, the footage will be aired only once the case has concluded.

BBC director of news and current affairs James Harding said: "This is a landmark moment for justice and journalism.

Baroness Helena Kennedy says court highlights will be "like goals in a football match"

"It is a significant step on the way to helping millions of viewers gain a greater understanding of how our judicial system works."

ITN chief executive John Hardie said filming in courts would be "for the benefit of open justice and democracy".

And John Ryley, head of Sky News, said: "Seeing justice being done will no longer be restricted to those members of the public who have the opportunity and time to go to court."

Footage can be used for news and current affairs but not in other contexts such as comedy, entertainment or advertising.

Courts minister Shailesh Vara told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are trying to ensure there is a balance, so the public can see what is happening, and that will be restricted to what the lawyers put forward and what the judge has to say.

"But on the other hand, we want to ensure that people are not intimidated and understand the justice system and are happy to come forward."

'Undermine justice'

However, Labour peer Baroness Kennedy QC said she was worried the development could undermine respect for the judicial system.

She said: "What I'm concerned about is something much more fragile, which is our liberty as citizens in this country that the legal system should be taken seriously.

"There should be some awe about it and it shouldn't be turned into entertainment for the masses and I don't trust the editors."

Barrister Michael Mansfield QC welcomed the move, saying it was long overdue.

"You have to remember justice is supposed to be public. It is public. You can walk in there today. The problem is that doesn't reach a wide enough audience and we're also subject to the editorial delights of various newspapers as to what they want to report," he said.

In Scotland, broadcasters have been able to apply to televise court proceedings since 1992 but this rarely happens.

Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Gill, has announced the policy will be reviewed to take account of changes in technology.

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