Televised sentencing remarks
On 28 July 2022, the law prohibiting filming in the Crown Court was amended to allow judges’ sentencing remarks to be broadcast. At 1042 the same day, the sentencing of Ben Oliver for manslaughter was the first such case to be broadcast live, with HHJ Munro QC passing a life sentence with a minimum terms of 10 years 8 months on Oliver for the killing of his grandfather.
Filming and recording sound in court in England and Wales are subject to general prohibitions by s. 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and s. 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 respectively. The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 disapplies these provisions for sentencing remarks made by a High Court Judge or Senior Circuit Judge in the Crown Court. The judge must give written permission for the filming of their sentencing remarks, and only the judge can be visible in the broadcast; the defendant cannot be shown. Recording of sentencing remarks is only permitted by a person with the Lord Chancellor’s written permission. At present, the only organisations with such permission are the BBC, ITN, Sky, and PA Media. Individuals without such permission should not attempt to film or audio record any proceedings in court – see the government’s guidance.
Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab describes the move as follows:
‘Opening up the courtroom to cameras to film the sentencing of some the country’s most serious offenders will improve transparency and reinforce confidence in the justice system.
The public will now be able to see justice handed down, helping them understand better the complex decisions judges make.’
Prohibiting filming in courts in England and Wales has been justified (among other reasons) on the basis that victims and witnesses may be deterred from coming to Court to give evidence by the possibility that they might be filmed. In addition to the transparency that the Mr Raab seeks, a counter-argument is that filming court proceedings is consistent with the notion of open justice; that broadcasting proceedings is, in effect, an expansion of the public gallery.
Some criminal practitioners of the have observed that the MoJ could consider selling advertising slots during broadcasts of sentencing remarks to alleviate the funding crisis in the criminal justice system…