In the Media

Queen?s speech ushers in era of cameras in court

PUBLISHED May 9, 2012

Wednesday 09 May 2012 by John Hyde

News broadcasters have hailed the permitting of cameras in court for the first time as 'an important step for democracy and open justice'.

The lifting of the ban was confirmed as part of the Queen's speech today and allows for judgments to be filmed and broadcast.

In a speech that focused heavily on justice issues, the Queen also outlined reform of the courts and tribunals service to 'increase efficiency, transparency and judicial diversity'.

Many of the changes form part of the Crime and Courts Bill, which the government promises will modernise the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Justice wants to 'demystify' the court process, but insists there will be no broadcasting of witnesses, victims or defendants.

The bill also proposes to establish the National Crime Agency to tackle the most serious and organised crime and strengthen border security. It will take over the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as well as tackling sexual abuse, cyber crime and the exploitation of children.

The Crime and Courts Bill reforms, arise from a series of Ministry of Justice consultations into changes to the county and other courts and reforming the way senior and other members of the judiciary are appointed. Specifically, the bill is to establish a single county court system and single family court to allow greater flexibility in the handling of cases.

It also aims to bring greater transparency to the judicial appointments process, improve judicial diversity and allow judges to move between courts and tribunals more efficiently.

Other proposed measures include allowing data to be shared between HM Courts and Tribunals Service and other agencies to allow fee exemption applications to be checked electronically.

The bill will also introduce a new offence of driving, or being in charge of a motor vehicle, with 'concentrations of specified controlled substances in excess of specified levels'.

The law on defamation and free speech will be reformed by the implementation of the draft Defamation bill, making it more difficult for cases to be brought and hauling back the use of forum shopping by overseas litigants.

Courts will also have limited use of closed proceedings to hear a greater range of evidence in cases affecting national security under the Justice and Security Bill.

A Children and Families bill will contain reforms to family law, including the creation of a six month time limit by which care cases must be completed.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, will - among other provisions - overhaul the employment tribunal system, reform the framework for setting directors pay, reduce regulation and repeal unnecessary legislation.

The three main news outlets, BBC, ITN and Sky, have spent years lobbying for cameras to be allowed in court. In a joint statement, they said: 'The presence of cameras in our courtrooms will lead to greater public engagement and understanding of our legal system. We look forward to working closely with the judiciary and the government to ensure that justice will now truly be seen to be done.'
Human rights charity Liberty criticised the closed proceedings move, as well as what it called a 'snooper's charter' which would allow the collection of communications data in records of emails, texts and web browsing history.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: 'Two years ago, the coalition bound itself together with promises and action to protect our rights and freedoms. As the strains of governing in a recession begin to show, politicians of all parties should remember the values that we are all supposed to share. Whilst action on free speech is extremely welcome, proposals for secret courts and a snoopers' charter risk allowing no scrutiny for them and no privacy for us.'