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Black Letter Communications Blog

Expert pr advice for the legal sector

Court on camera

Legal history was made last month when, for the first time in England and Wales, cameras were allowed inside London’s Old Bailey to film the sentencing of a man convicted of manslaughter.

Televised court proceedings are not new and have been permitted in the senior courts for a number of years, albeit infrequently and not on the scale of countries like the US where The People v. OJ Simpson attracted 100 million viewers at its peak.

This recent development does represent a significant shift, however, with the BBC, ITN, Sky and PA Media now able to apply to film and broadcast crown court sentencings. Requests can be granted or denied by the presiding judge.

Heralding the move, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab said it would “improve transparency and reinforce confidence in the justice system.”

A public confidence boost is sorely needed for the sector which has taken a battering of late due to a growing backlog, according to figures from April this year of more than 58,000 outstanding crown court cases.


There is no doubt that televising cases will improve transparency, accessibility and understanding of a system which, until recently, has been viewed largely through the sketches of courtroom artists. Of course, it depends on who watches but the widespread media coverage that serious criminal cases receive – spawning a separate ‘true crime’ genre – show the appetite is there.

While countries like the US regularly broadcast entire trials, filming in England and Wales will be restricted to judges’ sentencing remarks. It is felt that anything more may put off witnesses and turn court proceedings into a media circus.

But even this limited insight will give valuable context to how sentences – often perceived as unduly lenient in serious criminal cases – are calculated, the conditions attached and what they mean.

Media outlets are typically restricted by time or word count – and not least by the strength of the court reporter’s shorthand – so rarely do we ever get to read the judge’s comments in full.


‘Reinforcing’ confidence in the justice system is a different matter and one which sadly cannot be solved by a new piece of legislation which was – as seems fitting given the court backlog – a mere nine years in the making.

Ministers have been quick to blame the backlog of cases on criminal barristers who are currently striking in a long-running row over pay. Walkouts started at one day a week in June, rising to a full week in July and alternate weeks from this month.

It hasn’t helped and neither has Covid, but the reality is that the problem has been caused by years of chronic underfunding, resulting in legal aid being slashed to such levels that some barristers are working for wages equivalent to less than the minimum wage.

Many are simply cutting their losses, with the Criminal Bar Association reporting a 25% fall in its members compared to five years ago.

Were the courts to suddenly televise full proceedings now, anyone tuning in would likely be met with an empty courtroom or legal teams requesting the latest in a long line of adjournments due to lack of staff. Hardly compelling viewing, but it would paint a truer picture.

If confidence in the system is to be truly restored, the government must listen to those at the coalface.

As Lubna Shuja, vice president of the Law Society of England and Wales said recently: “The problem will not be resolved without a radical shift from the Ministry of Justice .

“Despite the courts of England and Wales now operating at full capacity, the backlog will not go away anytime soon without urgent action to ensure there are enough judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers to cover the huge numbers of cases.

“Victims, witnesses and defendants continue to face unacceptable delays and the wider public’s faith in the justice system is under threat.”

film camera