Barrister John Battle’s speech at a reception hosted by BBC, Sky News, the Press Association (PA) and ITN to mark the implementation of the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 that allows cameras to broadcast the sentencing remarks of High Court and Senior Circuit judges in some of the most high-profile courts across the country, including the Old Bailey.

We are honoured the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Dame Victoria Sharpe President of the King’s Bench Division, and her Honour Judge Sarah Munro who was the judge in the first case filmed in the Crown Court have all attended tonight. We’re here to celebrate cameras in court, in particular the filming of sentencing in the Crown Court which started July last year.

First and foremost, on behalf of the broadcasters I would like to say thank you to everybody here. I think it's fair to say everybody bar none in attendance has played their part in supporting the issue of cameras in court and wider issues of open justice.

To make it happen,  behind the scenes  there’s been work by many people over  many, many years over many, many, many meetings with significant contributions from members of the senior judiciary, personnel from the Royal Courts of Justice and HMCTS,  civil servants from the Ministry of Justice and Department for Constitutional Affairs, many MPs and Lord Chancellors as well as leadings barristers and the editorial teams of the BBC, ITN, Sky News and PA. Court reporters, producers, and editors have all provided encouragement and support. Thank you for contributing to this important open justice issue.

Tonight is a reception to celebrate the introduction of filming of sentencing in the Crown Court but I thought I would speak briefly about how we got here.

The story of cameras in court in modern times in England and Wales really begins in 1989, 34 years ago, when the Bar Council produced a report chaired by Jonathan Caplan KC  (who is here tonight). The report recommended televising of court proceedings. It was ahead of its time and innovative.

But cameras in court in England and Wales did not gain traction until the beginning of this century. In 2003 the then CEO of ITN, Richard Tait and I went to meet Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge to raise the issue. He showed interest and asked us to put a proposal together for a pilot in the Court of Appeal.

A broadcast group was started, and a pilot in the Court of Appeal took place in 2004. Great credit for the work on the pilot is due to John Cheesman of the BBC, Simon Bucks of Sky News (both of whom gave many years of dedication to the issue) and George Davis of Sky News (who is still with the group). We were perched in the higher galleries of the RCJ, that place where no-one seems to go. We were helped by Bowtie TV who filmed parliament.

Following the pilot a Public Consultation took place in 2005.

Progress was slow but in 2009 the Supreme Court allowed filming from its start. The Supreme Court was not subject to the 1925 Criminal Justice Act ban on cameras in court due to its forerunner the House of Lords being in the Houses of Parliament which filming was allowed. Our broadcast group passed on our experience from the pilot to those setting up the filming in the Supreme Court.

A key turning point came in 2013 when the legislative ban going back nearly a hundred years in the Criminal Justice Act 1925 was lifted in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. It allowed filming in courts subject to the approval of the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor. Shortly after the reform filming started in the Court of Appeal.

Key to the success of the filming in the Court of Appeal has been the sterling work of the court video journalist Matt Nicholls. He has always done a professional job, has a deep understanding of court reporting law and the sensitivities involved in filming in court. That knowledge and experience has been crucial in the filming in the Court of Appeal but also now sentencing in the Crown Court.

Cameras in court has come about due to the commitment and contribution of many people. I am not going to list them, we would be here all night. Many people deserve great credit for their work and commitment.

Along the way court reporting has been transformed and tonight is a celebration of that. This has genuinely been a rare and special example of close co-operation and trust between judges, the media and government to move an important public interest issue forward.  

Court reporting in television news 20 years ago was limited to images of police vans arriving at court, images of the scales of justice and court sketches. Now we can see sentencing, we also get access to video shown to the jury and increased access to documentation. It has brought court reporting to life. 

Critics who predicted a media circus, lawyers grandstanding, and such like were proven wrong. The sky did not fall down, quite the contrary -

  • Court reporters can do their job better informing the public. The more images and documents the media get the more we are likely to report.
  • For judges, it shows the public the hard and difficult task they face every day, how diligent they are and how complex are the issues in sentencing.  
  • But the main beneficiaries are the public who get to see their legal system and have a better idea of individual cases as well as broader issues such as sentencing and how courts work.

I personally hope that seeing the court and demystifying the law a little will inspire some young people that a career in the law is not beyond them. For me it was Granada’s Crown Court in the 1970s series that started my interest in courts and law.

But there are other hills to climb – filming in the High Court, extradition hearings, sentencing in magistrates and parts of coroner’s inquests. Why not? But that’s for another day.

Finally, I go back to where I started and simply say thank you to one and all for the effort and your commitment.