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Courts (Prescribed Recordings) Order 2023

Volume 832: debated on Thursday 14 September 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, this draft instrument relates to both transparency and security in our court system. Generally, and for good reason, there is a statutory prohibition on photography and audio recording within court buildings. Photography is prohibited under the Criminal Justice Act 1925, and audio recording is prohibited under the Contempt of Court Act 1981. More recently, Section 32 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 permitted certain exceptions—your Lordships will probably have seen sentencing remarks being broadcast recently in the Crown Court and live-streaming by the Court of Appeal, and there are some other examples. This statutory instrument deals with security and transparency, and it is made under those powers, building on the existing exceptions.

There are four aspects to the statutory instrument. The first is CCTV in court buildings, which is in Articles 5, 6 and 10 of the instrument. CCTV clearly plays a most important role in the safety and security of those who work in, or visit, our courts. The instrument ensures that the continued use of CCTV cameras in court precincts—but not courtrooms—is fully authorised and lawful. Indeed, there is currently CCTV in many court precincts. That is thought to be perfectly lawful, but this statutory instrument puts the issue beyond doubt, in case any issue ever arises in that connection.

The second aspect, in Articles 7 to 9 of the statutory instrument, relates to the use of body-worn video by operational staff. This is already common practice outside court buildings, but there is a legal issue as to whether body-worn video cameras can be lawfully worn within court precincts. Of course, such cameras are worn regularly by those who have to deal with potentially dangerous and difficult situations, such as police officers and prisoner escort staff, particularly staff from the prisoner escort and custody services transporting prisoners to and from the court.

There was a pilot scheme in 2017-18 to pilot the use of body-worn video within court precincts. There was a doubt at that time over the legality of the practice, so it was paused and then the pandemic somewhat overtook events. This provision deals not only with prisoner escort and custody staff but with police officers and court and tribunal security staff. Noble Lords will be aware that wearing body-worn cameras is now common practice in the police force, including when officers are authorised to carry Tasers, in which circumstances they are mandated to wear body-worn video. These updated provisions provide for body-worn video to be worn in the court context, but I emphasise that under Article 9 of the instrument, the body-worn video is not switched on unless there is a security alert or an escape.

The third provision is, I hope, an extremely innocent one. It is the practice in adoption cases for a photograph to be taken of the judge, who robes up for the occasion, with the family. Just in case anybody were ever to challenge that practice, this instrument makes it perfectly clear that photographs taken on that occasion are fully authorised, despite the statutory prohibitions on photography in court buildings.

Lastly, the instrument corrects a small omission in the previous order, the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020, which authorised circuit judges and certain others, including High Court judges, to have their sentencing remarks filmed and broadcast. What that earlier order did not quite provide for was the situation that occasionally arises in which the judge sitting in the Crown Court is actually a Court of Appeal judge. That was the situation in the lamentable case of Wayne Couzens, who pleaded guilty to murdering Sarah Everard, which was presided over by a Court of Appeal judge, Lord Justice Fulford. The order amends the earlier instrument to make sure that we have included Court of Appeal judges.

I hope this is relatively straightforward. All stakeholders have been consulted, the Lord Chief Justice has given his assent and I commend the instrument to the House.

My Lords, I am very happy to say that we support the statutory instrument and the various changes that the Minister outlined. I will just give a couple of comments and anecdotes. The first concerns CCTV in court precincts. I sat on the case—the only time I sat with the Chief Magistrate, as a winger, a magistrate—of a tribunal judge who had been assaulted in the courtroom. Of course, there was no film of that assault, but there was CCTV of the corridors approaching the courtroom, and from that we could see people going in and out, we heard the evidence and we reached our determination. It turned out that the person we convicted of assaulting the judge questioned the CCTV and was looking for the sources of it. The CCTV was able to be provided and we went ahead and convicted the defendant.

I have another small point on which I cannot resist picking up the Minister. On his third point about adoption cases, it is not just judges who do adoptions; magistrates also do them in family courts, and I have done a number myself. They were very happy occasions, and we took many photographs for the records of the families concerned. Nevertheless, we welcome all the minor changes outlined by the Minister and, on that basis, we accept the SI.

I stand entirely corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in relation to magistrates, whose work I have paid enormous tribute to on previous occasions, and I do so again. We entirely depend on our extremely important lay magistrates and I apologise for the omission, which was correctly drawn to your Lordships’ attention. I comment the instrument to the House.

Motion agreed.