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Broadcasting Court Proceedings

September 12, 2008 3:43 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference today rejected radical plans to broadcast British court proceedings on TV and radio.

The proposals would have opened up the workings of Britain's justice system, while ensuring that the rights of children and families are protected.

The full text of the motion is below. Mover: Jonathan Marks QC

Summation: To be announced

Conference believes that:

A. It is a cardinal principle of justice in a civilised society that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

B. Open justice requires that unless there are powerful reasons to the contrary, for example in cases relating to the welfare of children, court cases should be heard in public.

C. The most effective way of ensuring that hearings are genuinely heard in public is by permitting television and radio broadcasting of court proceedings, subject to necessary safeguards, in addition to press reporting and the admission of members of the public to courtrooms.

D. Were the broadcasting of court proceedings to be permitted, that would be likely to have the beneficial effects of:

i) Contributing significantly to public understanding of the system of justice.

ii) Better informing the public about individual cases and the reasons for court decisions.

iii) Increasing public confidence in the justice system.

iv) Improving public scrutiny of the justice system.

v) Making courts more accessible to members of the public.

vi) Enhancing the performance of advocates and judges.

vii) Providing a considerable educational resource for young people and students.

E. Similar considerations should apply to public enquiries and proceedings before tribunals sitting in public.

Conference notes:

I. That Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that: 'In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.'

II. The imminence of the establishment of a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom.

III. The success of the broadcasting of proceedings in Parliament.

IV. The substantial success of the broadcasting of court proceedings in comparable common law jurisdictions, such as Scotland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

V. The increase in the number and importance of cases of judicial review, so that review of the actions of the executive by the courts is now an important part of the democratic process.

VI. The broad welcome given to the principle of broadcasting court proceedings in the consultation exercise conducted by the Department for Constitutional Affairs in 2005.

VII. That the Justice Secretary appears to have abandoned progress towards broadcasting court proceedings, except, possibly, in respect of the new Supreme Court.

VIII. That broadcasting of court proceedings, subject to appropriate safeguards, is supported in principle by Justice and the Bar Council.

Conference therefore calls upon the Government to:

1. Introduce and support legislation to repeal Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, which has the effect of banning broadcasting of all court proceedings.

2. Permit television and radio broadcasting of court proceedings held in open court save where the interests of justice require otherwise.

3. Introduce Rules of Court to ensure that broadcasting does not prejudice the interests of justice, providing in particular:

a) That broadcasting will not, save in exceptional circumstances, be permitted in family cases, cases involving the welfare of children and cases involving sexual offences.

b) That pictures or recordings of jurors in criminal cases should not be broadcast.

c) That judges should have discretion to restrict the broadcasting of witnesses' evidence in appropriate cases.

d) That judges should be required to forbid broadcasting of evidence or argument where it is established that broadcasting would pose a threat to national security or to the safety of any person or property.

4. Make similar arrangements for the broadcasting of proceedings in public enquiries and before Tribunals in which proceedings are held in public.

5. Provide for a review of these arrangements for the broadcasting of court and other proceedings to be held after they have been operating for three years.