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Broadcasting sentencing remarks a “monumental moment” says SoE

Crown Court sentencing remarks were broadcast for the first time last week in what the Society of Editors has described as a “monumental moment” for open justice and the public’s right to know.

Broadcasting sentencing remarks a “monumental moment” says SoE
Dawn Alford: “Open justice is one of the fundamental cornerstones of any democracy and allowing cameras into court to broadcast sentencing remarks will enable greater transparency in the justice system.” Photograph: Eric Deeran on Unsplash.

The first sentencing remarks were broadcast at the Old Bailey last week when Ben Oliver, who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his grandfather in south London earlier this year, was sentenced. The change in the law comes after a 20-year campaign by news media organisations for cameras to be allowed in court.

Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors said on the day the first sentencing remarks were due to be broadcast: “Following a 20-year campaign by the media, today’s first anticipated broadcast of sentencing remarks is a monumental moment for open justice and the public’s right to know.

“Open justice is one of the fundamental cornerstones of any democracy and allowing cameras into court to broadcast sentencing remarks will enable greater transparency in the justice system and enhance the public’s understanding of how decisions are made. Moving forward, it is hoped that filming can be expanded on to shine a light on other important facets of the justice system to the benefit of the public.”

The Society of Editors says that the broadcasting of sentencing remarks will see BBC News, ITN, Sky News and PA Media film and broadcast, both on TV and online, under a pool system. Media organisations will have to seek permission from a judge before filming sentencing remarks and only the judge can be filmed in order to protect the privacy of victims, witnesses and jurors.

Announcing the move, deputy prime minister, lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice, Dominic Raab said: “Opening up the courtroom to cameras to film the sentencing of some the country’s most serious offenders will improve transparency and reinforce confidence in the justice system.

“The public will now be able to see justice handed down, helping them understand better the complex decisions judges make.

“Previously, proceedings were only broadcast from certain Court of Appeal cases. The contract has now been extended to the Crown Court and Sky, BBC, ITN and Press Association are able to apply to film and broadcast sentencing remarks, with the judge deciding whether to grant the request.

“The reform has been welcomed by national broadcasters who were involved in a successful pilot that allowed not-for-broadcast sentencing remarks to be filmed in eight Crown Court sites.”

John Battle, head of legal and compliance at ITN, and chairman of the Media Lawyers Association said: “This is a landmark moment for open justice. This reform reflects the public’s right to see justice being done in their courts. It will promote better public understanding of the work of the courts and greater transparency in the justice system.

“Court reporting is vital to democracy and the rule of law and this long overdue change is welcomed.”

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