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Society head warns of the risks of filming sentencings

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ALLOWING cameras to film sentencings in high-profile Royal Court cases could hamper the judicial system and is not something the Island should rush into, the head of the Law Society has said.

Neville Benbow

Television crews in England and Wales are to be allowed to film in Crown Courts – the UK equivalent of the Royal Court – for the first time after new laws were put before parliament.

From this spring, filming will be allowed of judges passing sentence in high-profile cases such as murder, sexual offences and terrorism.

The move marks a radical change to the operation of open justice, although whole trials will not be televised.

However Neville Benbow, chief executive of the Law Society, has said Jersey should not rush to follow the UK.

‘There is a danger in what is proposed in England and Wales in that, as it will only be the sentencing remarks that are televised and not other key parts of the trial, these remarks could, in isolation, be taken out of context, with the public not fully understanding why a particular sentence has been given,’ he said.

‘While there will be a short delay in remarks being broadcast to avoid breaches of reporting restrictions, there is also a risk that other court users, including the victims, witnesses, jurors and court staff could inadvertently be identified,’ he added.

Cameras have been allowed in courts in Scotland since 1992 – subject to permission and certain conditions. And in the US filming is commonplace with high-profile cases such as that of the trial of former American footballer OJ Simpson, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, being aired around the world. Simpson was acquitted but later found responsible for their deaths in a civil case.

Asked about whether allowing filming would support open justice, Mr Benbow said: ‘The courts in Jersey are already very accessible to the public, with the public gallery open in most cases and all high-profile cases widely reported in the media.

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‘We should, of course, never say that this is not something that will ever come to Jersey. For now, we recommend a watching brief and if it works well, and is found to have tangible benefits in England and Wales, it can be looked at for Jersey but it is suggested that, for now, we are far better placed in developing our digital capabilities for the courts which will have a greater impact on the speed, delivery and transparency of justice for the people of Jersey than a snapshot of justice in a small number of high-profile cases.’

A spokesperson for the Justice and Home Affairs Department said ultimately it was a decision for the courts but the Island would ‘wait to see’ how it affected justice in the UK.

In the UK, the judge alone will be seen on camera in a move which it is hoped will increase public understanding of cases.

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
author

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