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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 16:47 GMT
Court camera consultation starts
OJ Simpson during his 1995 trial
Lord Falconer says there will be no OJ-style 'circuses' in Britain
The public is being asked whether TV cameras should be allowed into courts in England and Wales.

The government launched an online questionnaire and a consultation paper on Monday.

Cameras are this week filming criminal appeals and civil cases in London's High Court as part of a pilot scheme, but the footage will not be broadcast.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, says there is a strong case for filming cases where witnesses are not involved.

"Technology and public attitudes have moved on since the legislation controlling the broadcasting of courts was passed in 1925," he said.

'Complex decisions'

But Lord Falconer, who announced the trial in August, said he was against televising criminal trials because he felt it could deter people from giving evidence.

He said cameras would only be used if they "benefit justice, not burden justice".

The public will be asked for their views by filling in an online questionnaire.

Lord Falconer
We don't want our courts turned into US-style media circuses
Lord Falconer

It asks if cameras should be allowed in each different type of court: crown, magistrates', civil and appeal courts.

It also questions whether only part of proceedings should be televised, such as opening and closing statements by lawyers or a jury returning a verdict.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens welcomed the move, saying cameras would show people the law is not all about "wigs and knee-britches".

"Televised hearings could show that some of the complex decisions, which are derided by some sections of the media, do actually have a rationale behind them," he said.

Cameras are allowed, in some form, in most European and Commonwealth countries, he added.

OJ Simpson

In the United States, criminal trials are regularly televised, with the cable channel Court TV broadcasting the country's "most newsworthy and controversial legal proceedings".

Most famously, that allowed Americans to see OJ Simpson, the former footballer and actor, acquitted of murder charges live on television.

You put your questions to Mark Stephens, Media Lawyer in an interactive forum

Cameras were also present when British nanny Louise Woodward was convicted of the murder of baby Matthew Eappen in Boston in 1997. Her conviction was later reduced to manslaughter.

But Lord Falconer insisted that England and Wales "will not have OJ Simpson-style trials".

"We don't want our courts turned into US-style media circuses," he said in August.

No decisions will be made until the government has consulted widely and evaluated the results of its pilot exercise at the High Court, he says.

The five-week test was organised with Channel 4, Five, ITN, Sky, and the BBC, but the footage will not be broadcast.

Lord Falconer argues justice is always better when it is seen to be done.

The only court proceedings currently televised are judgments of the Law Lords, which are read out in Parliament.

Do you think cameras should be allowed into courtrooms in England and Wales? Would it affect you if you had to give evidence? Does justice have to be seen to be done, or will it lead to damage the legal process? Tell us what you think.

As a prospective student of law, I find this proposal absolutely unnecessary. People act for the cameras, this practice will only be encouraged if cameras are introduced. Sensitive information can be revealed. I could go on but it is obvious from other people's comments as well that this proposal is nothing short of a waste of money, time, and energy.
Grace, Cranbrook, Kent

All court cases should be televised including criminal cases. Justice should be seen to be done. As it is, anyone has the right to go into the court and view proceedings; both magistrates and crown court. I have done so myself on many occasions. Televising proceedings is only another way of allowing the public the right to see proceedings taking place.
Mike, Mold, North Wales

This is an important step forward
Peter Noble, Sutton, UK
I think that this is an important step forward. Currently court reporting is often clouded by the prejudice of the reporters and their newspapers, especially if the newspapers have an angle on the crime. This will give us an opportunity to hear all the evidence for ourselves and draw our own conclusions. We already have a media circus for high profile trials. If we can see what actually was said and how it was said then it may actually enhance people's trust in the justice system
Peter Noble, Sutton, UK

Do people really have nothing better to do with their time than watch court hearings? This seems to support the increasing trend of judging people on allegation, not verdict. This is not another form of big brother, these people don't always choose to be in that situation.
Anon, UK

Reluctant witnesses will be even more so if they have their faces broadcast nationally. Those who wish to intimidate witnesses, will be able to recognise their victims with ease. Yes, it will turn into a circus, it has in the USA, it will here.
DCW, Barnsley. Yorks

I think it would only work if everyone involved who didn't want to be filmed could have their identities disguised, and that wouldn't make terribly good TV. You'd probably find a few defence solicitors wouldn't want to be shown, and much of the jury, the witnesses, the defendant, the accused and so on. It'd just be a TV screen of blurs with funny sounding voices. Very trippy. In America I think people probably love the opportunity to be on TV but it's not like that here. So let it go ahead: only a very small proportion of cases could be shown, so it wouldn't be very interesting and wouldn't turn into a circus.

While I agree that allowing TV cameras into courtrooms will inevitably lead to sensationalism and problems for witnesses and defendants, there is a strong case for the public's right to access the judicial process. In my opinion, the best way to balance these needs is to follow the lead of the US Supreme Court, which allows only sound recording and transmission. This allows the media to provide the public with access to the courts, while removing the temptation to descend into sensationalism.
Calum, Duns, Scotland

Yes they should be allowed. There's no reason why not. Witnesses can be either behind a screen, (which they should be anyway) so that the person on trial and the TV cameras cannot see them. Their voice can also be altered to prevent recognition. No reason as to why not.
Sergio, Bristol

There's no reason at all to allow cameras into courtrooms other than to entertain other people.
Garry Newman, Walsall

I think cameras should be allowed in courts - under the right of the public to see justice is done in their best interest. Of course it would affect anyone giving evidence, but they would have the right to be protected the same as everyone else. I do not see how it could damage the legal system - if anything it would probably increase the effectiveness.
A M Thorpe, Norwich England

To do so would reduce our legal system to another tacky form of reality TV
Alex Baker, Reading, UK
I think it would be awful to allow television cameras into courtrooms. If cameras are installed, they should certainly not be broadcast. To do so would reduce our legal system to another tacky form of reality TV.
Alex Baker, Reading, UK

I can only hope that this trial is beginning and the end of this dangerous idea. We will turn very much into the American model of a circus for a justice system, with all protagonists playing up - including memorably for example the judge in the O J Simpson trial. Also What about a trial where the jury have to be discharged for some reason - at a fresh trial, will new jury be asked whether they or a close relative have watched the television coverage or some of it?

I am also profoundly disappointed, but in no way surprised to see Lord Falconer is only concerned about protecting "witnesses, jurors and victims". What about the protection of defendants - not necessarily criminals until a guilty verdict! Do we want lynch mobs attacking suspected paedophiles or the public shunning a rape suspect? Also what about someone who having watched the whole of the evidence suddenly comes forward purporting to be a witness (either for the Crown or defence) - their evidence will be nigh on worthless as totally unreliable. This is a terrible, terrible idea!
Tim Forte, London UK

I do not think that televising court proceedings would be a good idea. There is already too much publicity before a verdict is given, which can lead to hardship for those who are acquitted of the crimes with which they have been accused. Many victims of crime and witnesses will also find increased publicity a disincentive to participate... and how would a 'court TV' service handle those who refuse to allow themselves to be filmed? Those weird blurred blotches? Or only present cases in which all participants give their consent to be pictured?
Megan, Crewe, UK

I think that cameras should stay out of the Courts of England and Wales. It is true that it is important for Justice to be seen to be done but this is why we have open courts is it not? There is no need to film proceedings when they can be watched by all who can be bothered to attend and are accurately reported by specialists.

No one enters the legal profession in order to become a television personality so why should it be forced upon them? The Government reforming for reform's sake and another area of life with which the media will no doubt end up with supreme control.
Gareth Scott, Bedford, England

If cameras are present then it is important that the coverage is not released until after the trial or appeal is complete. This would prevent trial by media and any untoward action against participants affecting the result. If actual trials eventually get cameras, jury members and witnesses should be able to opt out of being filmed if they believe it would adversely affect them.
Dave, Cambridge UK

The filming of court hearings would be the only way to see that justice is being done
Simon George Spratt, Edmonton, London
I think that the filming of court hearings would be the only way to see that justice is being done and that no fraud can take place within the courtroom. As things stand, our courts are liable to being defrauded by frauds. Justice cannot be done in this type of circumstance.
Simon George Spratt, Edmonton, London

There are persuasive arguments for and against, however in this current climate of insatiable appetites for "real-life" television we run the risk of it turning it into - "I'm a key witness, get me out of here!"
Mark McAllister, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Lord Falconer rightly identifies the problems inherent in "US-style circuses." So why is he wanting to broadcast some trials? Are there not also witnesses that could be intimidated in civil and appeal cases?
Tim, Oxford, UK

I do not think cameras should be allowed. This is not a drama series. I would not give evidence if it was being filmed. Justice can be seen by the report we have in the papers, or people can go and sit in the cases that interest them. This would lead to a legal system that they have in America- a media farce.
Anon, UK

Yet another waste of public money, why not employ a few more nurses?
Dave, Brighton

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