High-profile criminal cases in English and Welsh courts will be partially televised for the first time, the British Ministry of Justice said Thursday. The move was welcomed by broadcasters but that drew caution from lawyers’ organizations, the New York Times reports. Cameras will be present to record only judges’ sentencing remarks in crown courts, which handle more serious criminal offenses, including the Old Bailey, the main criminal court in London. Defendants, jurors, lawyers, victims and witnesses will remain out of shot. It will be a drastic cultural shift for English and Welsh criminal courts, which for decades have banned not only filming and still photography but also sketch-making, forcing news outlets to rely on artists working from memory.
Sentences in murder, terrorism and sexual offenses, among other serious crimes, would be available to broadcasters and to the public on a dedicated website. Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he hoped the filming would make justice more accessible, and “a better understood thing.” Buckland added, “Very often, we hear a story about a case, we think, ‘Why did the judge pass that sort of sentence?’ Now in a direct way, in a modern way, we’ll be able to see in those high-profile cases exactly why a judge made a decision.” Those who favor televising court cases consider it vital to transparent justice. Opponents argue that it distorts proceedings and and invades the privacy of victims, suspects, judges and prosecutors. Many U.S. state trial and appeals courts permit cameras, and some federal courts have run pilot programs. The Supreme Court rejected the idea. Justice systems in most European nations ban filming by the media in courtrooms.