Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Appeal court filmed for first time

A man checks the monitors in Court Four at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which has been fitted with TV cameras to broadcast live pictures from selected cases from October 31
A man checks the monitors in Court Four at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which has been fitted with TV cameras to broadcast live pictures from selected cases from October 31
A camera in Court Four at the Royal Courts of Justice in London
Cameras have been fitted in some courts

Broadcasting history has been made today as cameras were allowed to film in one of the highest courts in the land for the first time.

The ringleader of a coin-forging scam - represented by the Prime Minister's brother Alex Cameron QC - failed in his bid to appeal against his sentence during the first proceedings to be broadcast in the Court of Appeal.

Filmed after the near 90-year ban on allowing cameras in court was lifted, Lord Justice Pitchford refused an application to appeal against Kevin Fisher's seven-year jail term for his role in what is believed to be the largest ever plot to make fake pound coins in the UK.

James Harding, BBC director of news and current affairs, said: "This is a landmark moment for justice and journalism. It is a significant step on the way to helping millions of viewers gain a greater understanding of how our judicial system works."

Asked how he felt about being the first barrister to appear on camera at the Court of Appeal, Mr Cameron said: "It's surprising."

Speaking as the judges retired to consider the application, he added: "I only found out yesterday it was happening."

Mr Cameron declined to comment further after the application was refused.

Speaking during a visit to the headquarters of construction and support services giant Carillion in Wolverhampton, his brother Prime Minister David Cameron said: " I couldn't help notice that the barrister in the case was actually my brother which was a surprise to me this morning as I think it was a surprise to him.

"My reflection on that is that the noise and the atmosphere in the Court of Appeal is rather different to the noise and the atmosphere in the House of Commons for Prime Minister's Question Time.

"It's very quiet, it's very ordered, it's very reasonable. So I said to my brother perhaps he would like to do a job swap for a day.

"But I think it's an important thing. Open justice, open Government is a good thing and I think to start in the Court of Appeal is right."

Fisher, 55, from Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire, was jailed in May along with two other men after an undercover police operation recovered 80,000 fake £1 coins and a large quantity of blank metal discs that would have created coins with a total face value of £1.5 million.

During the application hearing, Lord Justice Pitchford said: "In his sentencing remarks the judge said on the evidence he had heard the appellant was the organiser of a sophisticated and carefully run organisation."

He added: "In the judge's view, while the appellant may not have been the manufacturer he was orchestrating the distribution of counterfeit coins on a very significant scale."

Mr Cameron QC had argued that the sentence given to Fisher was out of scale with sentences imposed in other similar cases and there was an unfair disparity between Fisher's sentence and those given to his co- conspirators .

Today was the first time cameras were allowed in courts other than the Supreme Court since filming was banned by the Criminal Justice Act 1925.

After years of campaigning by broadcasters BBC, ITN, Press Association and Sky News, cameras have been placed in five courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Lawyers' arguments and judges' summing up, decisions and - in criminal cases - sentencing remarks may be filmed but victims, witnesses and defendants will not be filmed. Proceedings will be filmed from only one courtroom on any given day.

The most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, said: ''The Court of Appeal has, of course, been open to the public and to journalists for a long time.

''The change in the law which is now coming into force will permit the recording and broadcasting of the proceedings of the Court of Appeal. This will help a wider audience to understand and see for themselves how the Court of Appeal goes about its work.''

There are a number of safeguards in place to protect the administration of justice, ensure there is no disruption to proceedings and protect witnesses and victims.

Some cases will be broadcast live with a 70-second delay to allow the removal of anything that contravenes broadcasting regulations or standard court reporting restrictions - such as contempt of court laws and court orders.

In addition, appeals against conviction which might result in a re-trial will only be shown once the case is decided, and the judge can order that there must be no filming or broadcasting if it is in the interests of justice.

ITN chief executive John Hardie said: ''Filming in courts has been a long time coming and is for the benefit of open justice and democracy. Never before will television viewers have had such an insight to justice being seen to be done.''

Discreet camera positions are to be operated by the court video journalist Matt Nichols who has both legal and journalistic qualifications.

Mr Nichols said his first day on the job had gone well.

"We've been practicing for a few weeks," he said. "On one hand it is just nice to get the first day out of the way and just hope we will be able televise some more high-profile cases."

Footage can be used in a news and current affairs context only and is banned from being used in other genres such as satire, entertainment or commercial use in advertising.

The Government said it will now consider filming of sentencing remarks in the Crown Court, with victims, witnesses, offenders and jurors still protected and not forming part of the broadcasts.

Almost all the proceedings of the Supreme Court have been filmed since it opened in 2009 and are sometimes broadcast on major TV and radio news networks.

And broadcasters in Scotland have been allowed to apply to film in court since 1992, but only with the consent of all parties.

A pilot took place in the Court of Appeal in the Royal Courts of Justice in 2005 in which cameras were allowed to film in the court. Footage from the pilot study was not broadcast.

It was in 2011 that the then-justice secretary Kenneth Clarke finally announced plans to overturn the ban on filming in courts.

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