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Courtroom TV plans: Joint Committee on Human Rights concerned

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The government's plans to increase public trust in the justice system by allowing TV cameras into courtrooms has been challenged by an influential parliamentary committee.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has urged the government to take a "more cautious approach", as it feels the current courtroom filming proposals could discourage vulnerable witnesses from coming forward.

Justice secretary Ken Clarke said in late 2011 that allowing cameras in courts would aid public understanding of justice, but he also insisted that trials would not become "theatrical".

He said that this was because, under the government's plans, filming would only first be allowed for judgements in the Court of Appeal, expanding to the Crown Court "in due course". There would not be TV or online coverage of jurors, victims and witnesses "under any circumstances".

The JCHR today issued its report on the Crime and Courts Bill, which will be considered at the Report stage in the House of Lords from Tuesday (November 27) and includes powers to lift the current restrictions on filming and broadcasting of court proceedings.

The JCHR said that it supports the government's aim to make justice "as transparent and publicly accessible as possible". But despite the proposed safeguards, the committee is "concerned that vulnerable victims and witnesses may be deterred from the judicial process and that certain defendants may not receive the protection their vulnerability demands".

The committee is particularly concerned that victims of child or sexual abuse may be deterred from coming forward with their complaints due to the potential presence of cameras at the trial.

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The committee is therefore urging a more cautious approach before any extension of filming powers. It also wants the government to conduct a more comprehensive public consultation and a more detailed impact assessment.

In terms of the bill, the JCHR is calling for it to be amended to "confine the scope of the power to the filming and broadcasting of judges and advocates" in appeal court proceedings only.

The government has already stated that filming would only start in the Court of Appeal, but also suggested that it would be extended to cover sentencing remarks in the Crown Court "in due course".

"We do not see the justification for the width of the order-making power in clause 23(1) of the Bill, which, as it stands, authorises the filming and broadcasting of witnesses, parties, crime victims, jurors and defendants in court proceedings," said the JCHR.

"We urge a much more cautious approach. Before any extension of this power we recommend that the government conduct a much more comprehensive public consultation, carry out a more detailed impact assessment in the light of that consultation and conduct a review of the operation of the power after an elapse of years.

"In the meantime, we recommend that the Bill be amended to confine the scope of the power to the filming and broadcasting of judges and advocates in appellate proceedings, as the government currently intends."

> Government confirms end to ban on courtroom cameras

Broadcasters, such as Sky News, the BBC and ITN, have called for the current ban on courtroom filming to be eased to help build more public trust and understanding in the UK justice system.

Two acts of parliament currently ban filming in all courts in England and Wales except the Supreme Court, meaning new legislation is required to allow cameras in.

Scotland does not ban courtroom filming, but all parties must agree before a case can be aired.

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