LONDON (Reuters) - Criminal court proceedings in England will be televised for the first time to improve public understanding of the justice system, a senior minister said Tuesday.
The move comes after criticism that some courts had handed out excessive sentences to many of those found guilty of taking part in a wave of rioting across the country last month.
Justice Minister Ken Clarke said allowing cameras into court would increase the public’s confidence in how the justice system operated.
“The government and judiciary are determined to improve transparency and public understanding of court through allowing court broadcasting,” he said in a statement.
However, cameras will only be permitted to record judges’ summary remarks at the end of each case. There will be no filming of victims, witnesses, offenders or jurors, Clarke’s justice ministry said.
The court of appeal will be the first to let in cameras. The government will then consider whether to expand televising to criminal trials at Crown courts, where more serious cases are held.
Clarke had earlier said he would be taking a cautious approach to prevent the presence of cameras turning courts into “theatre.”
Broadcasters who had been lobbying for cameras to be allowed to film trials in England and Wales say the public would have better understood sentences in riot cases if the judge’s remarks had been televised.
One man was jailed for six months for stealing bottles of water worth just 3.50 pounds, while two others received sentences of four years for inciting people to riot on a Facebook page, even though their postings caused no violence.
The English courts have long resisted the televising of proceedings to bring them in line with practices in other countries.
Many judges fear their cases would turn into fodder for prime time television as happened with the so-called “trial of the century” of O.J. Simpson in the United States.
To allow the changes parliament will have to amend restrictions dating back to 1925 when photography in court was banned, along with later legislation that also barred filming.
Some cases in Scotland, which operates a separate judicial system, have been televised since 1992.
Britain’s Supreme Court has permitted the televising of all its proceedings since it opened opposite parliament in central London two years ago.
Clarke’s justice ministry said he would consult with senior judges over the plans.
Reporting by Tim Castle