A parliamentary committee has voiced 'serious concerns' over government plans to broadcast court proceedings and called for a more cautious approach.
In its report published today, the joint parliamentary human rights committee says that it agrees with the government's objective of making justice as transparent and publicly accessible as possible.
But, despite the safeguards set out in the Crime and Courts Bill, the committee says it 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 bill is in its report stage in the House of Lords this week. Clause 23 confers on the lord chancellor a broad power to lift, by order, the current restrictions on filming and broadcasting of court proceedings.
The committee urges a much more cautious approach, recommending that, before any extension of this power, the government conduct a more comprehensive public consultation, carry out a more detailed impact assessment and review of the operation of the new power after some years.
The government intends to begin by initially allowing filming in criminal and civil divisions of the Court of Appeal, with the possibility of extending it to cover sentencing remarks in the Crown court in due course. It also envisages permitting the judgment, advocates' arguments and judges' sentencing remarks to be filmed and broadcast, but it would not allow the filming or broadcast of any parties or witnesses.
However, there is nothing in the bill to prevent the order-making power from being exercised in future to authorise the filming and broadcasting of witnesses, parties, crime victims, jurors or defendants, the committee says.
Its report says: 'We support the plans to televise appellate hearings, but have serious concerns about the implications for the right to a fair trial, and for jury trial itself, if television cameras are allowed into criminal trials.
'We are concerned about the risk that vulnerable victims, for example of child abuse or other sexual offences, might be deterred from coming forward with their complaints, that witnesses also may be deterred from coming forward because greater publicity will exacerbate the perceived risk of intimidation, and that certain defendants such as children may not receive the protection their vulnerability demands.'
The committee says there was no 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.
It says the scope of the new power should initially be confined to the filming and broadcasting of judges and advocates in appellate proceedings.
Committee chair Dr Hywel Francis MP said: 'The power in the bill is too broad. The government's current intention is to limit filming to the appellate courts, with the possible addition of sentencing remarks in the Crown court in due course.
'However, as currently drafted, it could too easily be extended to include filming of witnesses, parties, crime victims, jurors and defendants - a very different proposition, which could have the unintended consequence of deterring victims and witnesses, and possibly even undermining the fairness of trials.'
He said: 'It's potentially a slippery slope. We would urge the government to move more thoughtfully with wider public consultation and a more detailed impact assessment.'