Criminal trials may be televised

Leaked memo suggests Government u-turn on cameras in court

A leaked government memo suggests that legislation may be on the way that would allow the televising of high-profile criminal trials, according to today’s Sunday Times.

On the basis of the documents it has seen, the newspaper claims that ministers have decided broadcasters should be allowed to film parts of ordinary criminal trials and civil disputes.

However, strict conditions would be imposed on the coverage limiting it to pictures of the judge in the case. Defendants, barristers, jurors or witnesses would not be allowed to be shown and the trial judge could ban coverage in highly sensitive cases or where there would be a risk of prejudice to another trial.

The leaked memo comes as a surprise as the response to the Department of Constitutional Affairs’ consultation over the proposal to televise the courts was widely regarded to have been negative. In an announcement at the end of June, Lord Falconer the Lord Chancellor had said that there were “powerful” reasons for keeping television cameras out of the courts.

The consultation had included a pilot project in the Court of Appeal in November last year. 24 cases were filmed with the understanding that the footage would not be broadcast.

When the consultation was launched, Lord Falconer had said he was against televising criminal trials as it might deter witnesses from giving evidence. “We don’t want our courts turned into US-style media circuses,” he said last August.

Cameras have been allowed into Courts in Scotland – under strict conditions – for several years.