Since my last blog was published, the new proposals to allow cameras in courtrooms have gone through a rather rapid transformation. According to reports following the story breaking on Monday evening (5 September), the Government was ‘considering’ the plans, David Cameron was ‘sympathetic’ and Ken Clarke thought it was ‘a good idea’. By Wednesday morning, the Ministry of Justice had announced that the ban on filming in courts would be overturned, with filming being initially allowed in the Court of Appeal with a view to expanding to the Crown Court in due course.
The press release also adds offenders (generally absent from the preceding discussion on who the changes might affect) to the list of those who would be protected from filming, as the coverage would be limited to the judge’s summary remarks. The Ministry promises that ‘all changes will be worked out in close consultation with the judiciary’. It is not stated whether any such consultation took place between Monday evening and Wednesday morning.
The Justice Secretary has given no explanation for his sudden enthusiasm, and there is no obvious or immediate political need for him to do so. One possible catalyst for the new approach is an open letter from the Head of Sky News, John Ryley, copied to the Press Association, reminding Mr Clarke of his commitment earlier in the year to consult on such changes. Whether this provided impetus to the Government to make the changes, or was just fortuitous timing from Mr Ryley, we do not know. Equally unclear is why the decision on such an important change, with many tricky unanswered questions, was apparently made with such unnecessary haste.
Overturning the ban on cameras in courts will require new legislation and there is no telling when this might happen. However, with the MoJ only indicating that there are ‘no immediate plans’ it seems unlikely to be before 2012. A bigger question is what exactly Parliament will be asked to vote on. Given the unanswered questions about the plans so far and the promise of judicial consultation, how this latest move toward transparency and confidence will manifest itself very much remains to be seen.
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