The United Kingdom Parliament passed the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order in January 2020, allowing media outlets to broadcast on-going cases in the Crown Court. The ban on broadcasting in the Crown Court has been active for nearly 95 years, since the passing and implementation of the Criminal Justice Act in 1925, which banned the publication of photographs and/or sketches taken or made in and around courtrooms. The specific ban on broadcasting was also clarified via case law, meaning judges in the courts have interpreted the Criminal Justice Act of 1925 as a ban on broadcasting in the Crown Court.
The status quo outlines a contrast from what is now regarded as overruled legislation. In fact, broadcasts of courtroom proceedings are not new to the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court was allowed to broadcast through the Constitutional Reform Act 2005; this was to replicate the same precedent set for the House of Lords prior to the formation of the Supreme Court. One of the recent high profile cases that was subject to broadcasting ex the Supreme Court is R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent), which is the case that included the decision on PM Boris Johnson’s attempt to prorogue Parliament’s session deeming it unlawful. The Court of Appeal has also been allowed to broadcast since The Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order in 2013. Thus, it is clear that both legislators and the judiciary are experiencing a shift from what could be considered as outdated limitations.
Why should the most recent Order be considered important?
The Crown Court holds criminal cases on a classified basis, for example; Class 1 offences include murder and treason, Class 2 offences include manslaughter and rape, Class 3 offences outline crimes that are not considered to be as serious as the ones mentioned before. A High Court Judge can strictly hear the first class of offences; either a High Court Judge or a Circuit Judge hears the second class of offences, while neither hears the third class of offences.
The structure of The Crown Court exhibits a degree of distinction between the classified offences, a distinction that can be measured by the seriousness of the listed offences. With that in mind, it is important to establish that the viewership of certain proceedings in the Crown Court can be considered to be a positive step towards transparency. It can also be the first step of many, which may pose challenges to certain concepts that are considered to be important to the judiciary.
When considering the concept of open justice; which is best described as a process that hosts transparency and allows public scrutiny, The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order is a promising step towards a fully transparent process. At the moment, it is only allowed to broadcast the judges’ sentencing remarks in the courtroom. Media outlets are required to gain permission from the judiciary, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals service retains copyright of all footage with unlimited access to the Ministry of Justice and Judicial Office. Although it is expected for such protocols to exist, it seems like there is a long way to go till the public is given full access. However, such restrictions can have important reasons, such as protecting the identity of defendants that are children.
This newly granted access the public has to the Crown Court allows for a more efficient means of accessing information. Sectors that are highly involved with material coming from the Crown Court can now have video recordings of decisions. For example, in the education sector, lecturers and students alike can use the video material for analytical and evaluative purposes. The media sector can now produce news at a faster rate, since the decisions of the courts do not solely have to be read. However, it can be argued that media outlets can decide to not devote their resources to courtrooms, as viewers may be reluctant to watch ‘courtroom television’ due to the language being too difficult, or because courtrooms just do not have an attractive setting. However, there has been data to confirm the success of courtroom broadcasting, for instance, the Supreme Court has managed to secure agreements with main national broadcasters such as BBC, ITN, and Sky News, but it is essential to acknowledge that the Supreme Court also has their own camera crew.
What should we expect to see after the most recent order?
The Sky News website has recorded around 22,000 unique monthly visitors to the Supreme Court’s broadcasts. This demonstrates that there is a sufficient level of interest in such broadcasts. Furthermore, it is important to note that it is highly unlikely for viewers to expect any content similar to the ‘glove moment’ from the notorious O.J Simpson trial. Nevertheless, viewers can expect broadcasts on cases similar to the Tony Martin murder trial, which took place in the Norwich Crown Court before going to the Court of Appeal (R v Martin  2 WLR 1).
The main facts of the case are concerning the defendant’s use of a firearm to deter recurring intrusions to his farmhouse, which eventually resulted in the murder of one of the intruders. Mr. Martin used the self-defense plea in the Crown Court, which was sufficient to raise the profile of his case to a national level, however it was not sufficient for the jury. Mr. Martin was convicted of murder and later appealed his conviction. This case remains very controversial due to the pleas used by Mr. Martin, who eventually quashed his conviction.
Criminal cases that cause similar moral and legal conflict in the courts and in the public sphere are now allowed to be available for broadcast, but it is debatable if the judiciary would allow the broadcasting to take place. This is very dependent on a number of variable factors. Since the judiciary has the power to grant or deny access to the media, it can be predicted that not all judges would allow cameras to be present in the courtroom. Regardless of any limitations that still exist, allowing broadcasts from the Crown Court is a big step for justice and transparency.