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Crown Court (Recording) Order 2016

Volume 771: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2016

Motion to Consider

Moved by

My Lords, the draft order removes the prohibition on recording court proceedings to the extent necessary to enable a judge’s sentencing remarks in the Crown Court to be recorded on a not-for-broadcast basis for the purposes of a test. Before setting out details of the order, I will briefly explain some background to the policy.

As noble Lords may be aware, the recording and broadcast of proceedings in courts, other than the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, is prohibited by Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Section 32 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which received Royal Assent in April 2013, enables the Lord Chancellor, with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, to make an order specifying circumstances in which the prohibitions on recording and broadcasting may be lifted. The Crown Court (Recording) Order 2016 is the second order to be made under that power.

Why are the Government doing this? There is evidence to suggest that the more informed people are about the justice system, the more confidence they will have in it. Of course, few people have direct experience of court proceedings, and public understanding of the way the justice system works is inevitably limited. In principle at least, our courts are open to all members of the public who wish to attend, but in practice very few people have the time or opportunity to attend and see what happens in person. We believe that we should make our courts more accessible and make it easier for the public to understand court proceedings. Increasingly, people rely on television and the internet for access to news and current affairs. It is right to respond to changes in technology and society, and therefore to allow cameras into our courts.

While it is important for justice to be seen to be done, this cannot be at the expense of the proper administration of justice, the integrity of the trial process or the reputation of the courts. The courts deal with very serious matters that can affect the liberty, livelihood and reputation of all parties involved. The proposed test period at the Crown Court venues agreed with the Lord Chief Justice provides the opportunity to examine how we can film in our courts in a way that protects the individuals involved and preserves the dignity of the courts and the trial processes.

I am conscious that there will be concerns about the welfare of victims and witnesses, and the potential for court broadcasting to have a detrimental effect on their experiences in court. In the event that a victim or witness is present in court during the recording of a judge’s sentencing remarks, there are a number of safeguards in place designed to minimise any potential impact that the recording might have. The order does not permit the filming of victims or witnesses, or indeed any other court user, including staff, members of the public, defendants and advocates. It will be a matter for the judge to decide whether or not filming of a particular case should be allowed and they will take into account the interests of victims and witnesses when considering this. In addition, existing reporting restrictions will continue to apply, and Section 32(3) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 provides that the court may stop or suspend filming in the interests of justice, or to prevent prejudice to any person. Any breach of the terms of the order may amount to a contempt of court.

None of the cases recorded during the test will be available for broadcast to the public. Recorded material will be used only by the judiciary, Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service and the Ministry of Justice for the purposes of the test, including assessing whether or not it has been successful.

The Government are committed to increasing transparency and providing the public with information on the operation of public services, and the justice system is no exception. To many people, the law remains mysterious. Public understanding of how the courts work, and sentencing in particular, is critical to maintaining confidence in the system and ensuring that justice is seen to be done. We believe that the order before your Lordships today is an appropriate step forward in testing how we allow for greater visibility of what goes on in our courts without undermining the quality and reputation of our justice system.

At the end of the test period the lessons learned will be considered by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to help inform their decision on whether or not broadcasting of judges’ sentencing remarks in the Crown Court should be permitted in future. If they agree, we will return to the House with a third order to allow broadcasting of recorded material to commence. I commend the draft order to noble Lords and I beg to move.

I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this very interesting and important order, which my party and I support. I will ask a number of questions about the order itself and the policy underlying it, but before I do so, I will set out our position in relation to this. In principle, more broadcasting and recording of courts is a good thing because it increases public understanding of the court system and allows transparency in one of the important institutions of state.

I accept what is implicit in what the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, which is that any movement towards broadcasting of courts has to be done carefully. It has to protect witnesses, jurors, claimants, defendants and members of the public—children in particular—from any problems that may arise from the recording of court proceedings. In particular, one is conscious that being a witness in a criminal or civil trial is an anxiety-inducingin any event and one does not want to make people more anxious by having it filmed or recorded. But in principle we consider that there should be much more openness and broadcasting of what goes on in court.

First, the Act allows the lifting of the prohibition on recording what goes on in court, which is prevented by the Criminal Justice Act 1925. If the ban on recording is lifted, is it assumed that live broadcasting can take place or is it envisaged that all that can occur is a subsequent broadcast? I ask because the prohibiting word is “recording”. I respectfully suggest that the right course is that there should be the possibility of near-live broadcasting, subject to a very minimal delay, of what goes on in court but subject to the issues that I have identified.

Secondly, as the Minister said, two orders have been made under the Act: the Court of Appeal order and the sentencing remarks order. Is there a plan that will lead to maximum openness, assuming the process works, subject to the sorts of protections I have identified? That is, you do not want to film jurors, witnesses and victims. Is there a plan? It feels a bit random. We have had a Court of Appeal order in 2013 or 2014 and now a sentencing remarks order. Can the Minister please tell us what the overall plan is?

Thirdly, I understand that the Court of Appeal order has been considered, by which I mean that some review of it has taken place. Can the Minister tell us what the outcome of that review was? For example, what did the judicial participants in the Court of Appeal process think about it? Secondly, to what extent was it thought that there were changes in behaviour in court? I think I am right, although I may be corrected, that in the Court of Appeal the judges and advocates are now filmed as a matter of course. Do the Court of Appeal or the advocates—I hope that the advocates were consulted as well—think that their behaviour has changed as a result? Does it mean that things take more or less time?

I was very grateful for the very clear explanation of this order by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. I read it in exactly the way that he read it, which is that it allows for the filming only of the judge himself and nobody else in court is filmed. It is for the judge himself, under Section 32, to decide whether or not a particular set of sentencing remarks will be broadcast. I do not see any time limit in the order but I assume that a timescale is envisaged. I am not asking for a time limit, but can the Minister say what time limit is envisaged?

The Minister indicated that the only people who would be assessing this would be judges and people in the Ministry of Justice. I recognise and accept that none of this is for broadcast, but I strongly urge the Minister that the group of people assessing the process should be much wider, obviously subject to appropriate confidentiality and to not allowing the not-for-broadcast test to be broadcast. We need much more, in all honesty, than simply the judges and the excellent Ministry of Justice officials; there needs to be a much wider group, subject to confidentiality, to look at it.

Finally, I have just come from the Hillsborough inquest. It is the most appalling shame that the conclusions of that inquest were not recorded, for either live or near-to-live broadcast. What are the proposals in relation to inquests? It would have been so good if what the jury concluded could have been readily available—for example, on the 1 pm, 6 pm and 10 pm news. You would not need to film the jury, you would have needed only to film the coroner setting out what the remarks were.

I am very supportive of this order but I am terribly anxious that things are going much too slowly. Although I completely agree about the need for care and thought about this, this is the second order after two and a half years with no apparent plan. Perhaps something a bit more focused is required, but we support this order.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble and learned Lord’s constructive comments and questions about this order and I am grateful, of course, for the Opposition’s support of it.

The overall purpose is, as I indicated, to ensure that the public have a clearer idea of what goes on in courts. The noble and learned Lord is right to say that progress is slow, but there are, I respectfully suggest, reasons to go slowly. Great care, as he acknowledges, has to be shown in how we develop it; care has to be shown for all those people potentially affected, including witnesses, as he said. Children are being excluded from this experiment, or test, altogether; clearly, we would be most concerned that children, in so far as they are allowed into court at all, would potentially be affected by expanding the scope of this order.

Of course, the Court of Appeal has been progressing with its own broadcasting and those who are disposed to find such things interesting can see a live feed of the Supreme Court. There is only a limited take-up, but I do not think there is any suggestion that it has adversely affected the way that the judges or advocates behave. Likewise, the judiciary considers the Court of Appeal experiment to have been successful and it has not noted any change of behaviour. I suspect that what happens is that people forget after a bit that the cameras are there.

As to the timing generally, the intention is to begin this test in June this year and to continue for three months, or for such time as there are enough cases to provide a useful amount of data on which to decide the way forward. I understand what the noble and learned Lord says about the degree of consultation. One would imagine that, although the formal consultees are restricted, they would take informal soundings beyond their own interest to see whether or not they thought it had been effective. I am sure that they would do that, whether specifically invited to or not.

The noble and learned Lord made the point that there would be much benefit in having some of the remarks yesterday in the Hillsborough inquiry broadcast. I am sure that he is right, and we may well proceed in that direction in due course, but it has taken a long time to get as far as we have got.

There are those who are very concerned about even the limited progress that this order involves, saying that there is a danger of judges deciding to tailor their remarks to what may be acceptable in terms of what they will see broadcast in due course. As I understand it, subject to confirmation, it is not intended that this should be live, although I take the noble and learned Lord’s point about the desirability of it being near-live. I am correct: it is not intended that it should be live. It should be a recording as the word is used.

Of course, this is unlikely to be the last word on this issue. One hopes, once this order has taken effect and the test has been considered, that we may be able to go further forward. It is genuinely to be hoped that the sentencing remarks will provide some real help to in public understanding of the way in which people are sentenced, because, inevitably, reports tend to fasten on the result or certain extracts from the sentencing, whereas the whole of the sentencing remarks may give better context and a better explanation of the judge’s reasoning, as well as whether the reasoning is something that he or she is compelled to conclude by reason of statutory provision, or whether he or she is exercising discretion, as the case may be. I hope that it will fulfil the overall objective that the Government intend by this.

I think that I have dealt with all the noble and learned Lord’s queries. Following this debate, I hope the Committee will agree that this is a proportionate and sensible approach to enable the safeguards to be developed and to ensure that we can present any future footage fairly and accurately.

Motion agreed.