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Britain to consider televising English courts

In an attempt to increase public support for its justice system, British officials consider televising criminal court proceedings, while several judges fear such a decision could possibly turn the courts into a "theater"

Reuters , Tuesday 6 Sep 2011
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Criminal court proceedings in England could be televised for the first time to improve public confidence in the justice system, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

The move comes after criticism that some courts had handed out excessive sentences to many of those found guilty of taking part in a wave of rioting across the country last month.

Justice Minister Ken Clarke said the government was considering televising courts and said allowing in cameras would "demystify" the legal process.

"There is no good reason for not allowing people to see the judge (and) hear the sentence in the judge's own words with his explanation rather than perhaps the way it might be reported afterwards," Clarke said.

But he said he would take a cautious approach to prevent the presence of cameras turning courts into "theatre".

Broadcasters who have been lobbying for cameras to be allowed to film trials in England and Wales say the public would have better understood sentences in riot cases if the judge's remarks had been televised.

One man was jailed for six months for stealing bottles of water worth just 3.50 pounds, while two others received sentences of four years for inciting people to riot on a Facebook page, even though their postings caused no violence.

The English courts have long resisted the televising of proceedings to bring them in line with practices in other countries.

Many judges fear their cases would turn into fodder for prime time television as happened with the so-called "trial of the century" of O.J. Simpson in the United States.

The restrictions date back to 1925 when photography in court was banned, with the legislation later updated to also bar filming.

However, some court cases in Scotland, which operates a separate judicial system, have been televised since 1992.

Britain's Supreme Court has permitted the televising of all its proceedings since it opened opposite parliament in central London two years ago.

Clarke's justice ministry said he would consult with senior judges over the broadcasters' proposals, which would initially restrict coverage to the sentencing and the judge's remarks.

Clarke said the more sedate proceedings of appeal hearings would be the best place to first introduce cameras, before moving onto actual criminal trials.

 

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