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Wednesday, 27 December, 2000, 20:20 GMT
Court TV plans denied
OJ Simpson trial
The televised trial of OJ Simpson caused controversy
The Lord Chancellor's Department has denied reports that the government is planning to allow cameras into court rooms.

A ministerial committee, headed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, was said to be reviewing the court system for England and Wales, including plans to propose televising the appeal courts.

But a department spokesman said no such committee existed and there were no plans to follow the lead of Scotland, which has allowed filming of court proceedings since 1992.

The Lord Chancellor is not chairing any ministerial review group looking into allowing cameras into court proceedings

Lord Chancellor's Department
"The Lord Chancellor is not chairing any ministerial review group looking into allowing cameras into court proceedings," he said.

Legislation passed in 1925 banned cameras from courts in England and Wales.

Cameras have been allowed in Scottish courts - under strict conditions - for the last eight years.

The reports come amid growing fears that the justice system is seen as too remote. Televising sessions could be a way of opening up the mysteries of the courts to people.

Such a move would have allowed recent cases such as Neil Hamilton's libel appeal and the law lords' hearing of the General Pinochet case to have been televised.

Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor
Lord Irvine: Denies reports of court TV plans
Previous attempts to introduce cameras to court have failed and legal opinions remain sharply divided on the issue.

Opponents argue it would influence the way witnesses and lawyers behave in court.

The debate was sharply highlighted by the OJ Simpson case in America which was extensively broadcast on television.

A scheme introduced in Scotland in 1992 permits court cases to be televised if all sides involved give their consent.

Gordon Jackson QC, an MSP and criminal lawyer, said he was a "strong proponent" of the Scottish experiment but had reservations about the revising the system in England and Wales.

Media circus

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think the main problem is that television tends to distort, it tends to trivialise.

"There are other problems: it does put pressure on witnesses, it does change the whole dynamic of the court."

Mr Jackson said another factor was the possibility of witnesses, normally banned from court before they give evidence, seeing proceedings broadcast on television.

Eventually televised courts could lead to a "media circus" around the legal system, he added.

Before the reports were denied by the Lord Chancellor's office, they received a cautious welcome from lawyers.

Malcolm Fowler, chairman of the Law Society's Criminal Law Committee, said:

"Anything which brings the workings of the law closer to the public is to be welcomed.

"But individual citizens appearing in courts, whether they be witnesses or defendants have to have proper safeguards."

Roy Amlot, chairman of the Bar Council, added: "We are in favour of the view that there should be televising of proceedings."

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