The House of Commons has approved measures allowing live TV broadcasting from the Court of Appeal.
The legislation is expected to come into force next month, following a final debate in the House of Lords. Media organisations will be able to pay to film within certain civil and criminal courts, capturing legal arguments and the judges’ statements and decisions.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Helen Grant explained the thinking behind the measure:
“Justice must be seen to be done, that is why we are introducing limited television broadcasting in courts from next month. We are opening up the court process to allow people to see and hear the judges’ decisions in their own words, but we will also ensure that victims and witnesses will not be filmed and will remain protected.”
“Decisions as to exactly which cases are broadcast will be subject to necessary judicial checks, including where it would not be in the interests of justice to broadcast footage or would cause undue prejudice to any party.”
After decades of court artists’ renderings and after-the-fact reports, in-court filming represents a dramatic cultural shift in English law, despite its inevitably limited scope, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
Of course there are stringent restrictions on what can and can’t be reported within family law The identity of the children so often caught up in family disputes must be protected.
But it is just a few days since Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, issued his dramatic call for greater openness within the family courts. Considering an application by Staffordshire County Council for a far-reaching injunction on publicity surrounding a contentious care case, he emphasised:
“…the right of the public to know, the need for the public to be confronted with, what is being done in its name.”
“Nowhere is this more necessary than in relation to care and adoption cases. Such cases, by definition, involve interference, intrusion, by the state, by local authorities and by the court, into family life. In this context the arguments in favour of publicity – in favour of openness, public scrutiny and public accountability – are particularly compelling. The public generally, and not just the professional readers of law reports or similar publications, have a legitimate, indeed a compelling, interest in knowing how the family courts exercise their care jurisdiction.”
TV broadcasting from the Court of Appeal must have a role to play in this commendable new focus on open family justice.