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Seeing justice being delivered!

  • United Kingdom
  • Environment
  • Health and safety

17-01-2020

Yesterday the government has announced new legislation which will permit the sentencing remarks of High Court and senior judges in certain criminal cases to be filmed and broadcast to the public. This will include judges passing sentence on high profile-criminal cases in Crown Courts, including the Old Bailey.

The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 will only permit the recording of the sentencing remarks delivered by the judge with no other court user – including victims, witnesses, jurors, lawyers, court officers or the convicted Defendant appearing in the film. There will also be a 10 second delay to live broadcasts to avoid potential breaches of reporting restrictions with the film being made available on a public website. This platform will allow the media to play extracts from the film in later news broadcasts. It is anticipated that the first broadcasts will start in late spring or early summer.

Whilst it is the first time that filming has been permitted at criminal trials it is not a new approach. Since 2013 in certain cases across England and Wales in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court filming has been permitted; with a similar approach adopted in Scottish courts since 2012.

This new initiative has been met with opposing views. Supporters welcome the opportunity to assist in the greater understanding of our justice system, and a transparent approach allowing the public to witness justice being delivered to the most serious of offenders with the rule of the law being respected. At the other side of the spectrum are those who raise concerns in a change of culture with criminal sentencing becoming an ‘armchair spectator sport’ and a risk that such broadcasting may compromise the interests of justice and the primacy of a fair trial.

The expansion to these broadcasting rights is a reminder to organisations who may find themselves before the Crown Court for sentence in a high profile safety or environment case to consider:-

1. The importance of any documentation to be filed at Court or representations to be made to the Judge in relation to the incident. If the Court is persuaded this information will form part of the sentencing remarks. The may include details of remorse, a reference to overall effective safety systems, positive safety ethos and culture, full cooperation in relation to the regulatory investigation and assistance which has been provided to the injured employee and their family;

2. Who are the most appropriate individuals to represent the organisation at the hearing;

3. The communication strategy which is in place; and

4. The accuracy of the reports from the hearing. Filmed sentencing remarks are likely to be preferable to the regulators own media report.

Whilst these changes invite the public to witness what happens in serious criminal cases it is not a step by the Ministry of Justice to adopt the American and South African approach where full criminal trials are live streamed like those cases of OJ Simpson, Oscar Pistorius and Conrad Murray. Although, it has been seen in the recent documentary of Margaret Fleming’s trial that courts in Scotland have started to open their doors a little wider possibly causing court artists to consider alternative career paths.

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