Shailesh Vara On Filming In Court

courtroom17:24 Thursday 31st October 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: After years of negotiation between the courts and the media, TV cameras have finally been allowed to broadcast proceedings in one of the highest courts of England and Wales, and that’s the Court of Appeal. With the exception of the Supreme Court, they’ve been banned from courts in England and Wales for nearly ninety years, would you believe. They’ve been allowed in Scotland since ’92, but only with the consent of everyone involved. It remains to be seen whether cameras are eventually allowed in Crown Courts and Magistrates Courts. Here’s the moment that history was made in Court No. 4.
BARRISTER: My Lord I appear for the applicant in this matter. It’s a renewed application for permission, service having been passed on 21st May of this year, and permission refused by Mr Justice Stewart on 22nd July of this year.
CHRIS MANN: So just to be clear, cameras will only be allowed in the Court of Appeal for now. But perhaps you might think this should be the start of something bigger. We shall see. Should cameras be allowed in all courts? Shailesh Vara joins me now. He’s the MP for North West Cambridgeshire, and of course recently appointed as Courts Minister. Shailesh, hello.
SHAILESH VARA: Good afternoon Chris, and a very good afternoon to all your listeners as well.
CHRIS MANN: Thank you. An historic day.
SHAILESH VARA: Oh, a truly historic day,and a landmark occasion for justice in England and Wales. The first time ever cameras will be allowed, as you said, in one of the highest courts in the land, the Court of Appeal. And the public will be able to see for themselves what lawyers are saying and what the judges are saying. And of course this is all going to help towards the process of an open and transparent justice system.
CHRIS MANN: Because you were a solicitor, weren’t you, before you became an MP.

SHAILESH VARA: Yes. Quite a few years ago I did practice as a solicitor.
CHRIS MANN: I don’t know if you’ve ever done any criminal work, but do you think that’s where the TV cameras are ultimately going?
SHAILESH VARA: No, I have to say I didn’t do any criminal work. But in those days it was a big deal when they allowed recording in Parliament itself.
CHRIS MANN: You were afraid of that, but it’s enhanced the status of Parliament, hasn’t it?
SHAILESH VARA: (LAUGHS) Certainly the public can see some of what their MPs are doing in Parliament, but as you know only too well Chris, as you listen to my answer with a big smile on your face which our listeners can’t hear, there are so many other aspects of parliament, Select Committees and so on, which perhaps don’t give a true reflection of what Parliament is. But I have to say Parliament, when the big occasions, the state occasions are there, then there’s a huge amount of the population who listen in.
CHRIS MANN: As you know, for twenty years I think it is now we’ve been watching live trials in America for instance and in other countries. Why not have that?
SHAILESH VARA: I think it’s important to note that what we are trying to do is to have a balance. A balance recognising that the public, in an age of openness and transparency, should be able to see how justice is done. But we need to make sure that the public who appear as witnesses or as victims or indeed jurors, although in the Court of Appeal there aren’t any jurors, we need to make sure that they are not frightened or intimidated in giving evidence. We also need to make sure that defendants, for example after they’ve been sentenced, they don’t use the opportunity of the camera to make some sort of statement.
CHRIS MANN: It works in America, and surely justice has to be seen to be done Shailesh.
SHAILESH VARA: It has to be seen to be done. But the other thing is that it has to be done properly. And that is why witnesses, victims and defendants, they will not be filmed. They will not be broadcast. The only people that you will see are the lawyers and the judges. And whilst you may argue that if it’s going to be done properly you have to have the others filmed as well, to which the counter argument, which is a powerful argument, is that they should not be intimidated. And there well be very good reasons why people should not have their identity revealed. And sometimes people .. matters can be very sensitive.
CHRIS MANN: But once you start a process it’s difficult to stop it, isn’t it?
CHRIS MANN: You can’t have a little bit of freedom, can you?
SHAILESH VARA: I think we have to recognise here that the judiciary is completely independent. Under our constitution the judiciary is there to ensure that justice is done properly. And the final say will ultimately remain with the judges. Even now, with the new rules that we’ve introduced, if it is felt by a judge that something is going to be detrimental to the proper functioning of the process of law, they can stop broadcasting with immediate effect. And it is important to remember that. As far as going forwards is concerned, we have, over the past two years, spoken with the broadcasters, spoken with the judiciary, and come to this conclusion. Moving forward, there is talk of allowing Crown Court to have the sentencing by the judge, but only the sentencing by the judge, being broadcast. Not the lawyers or anything else. So as far as the future is concerned, Crown Court a possibility in a limited way. And anything beyond that would require a huge amount of debate in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and so on.
CHRIS MANN: Thank you for joining us to answer that. And congratulations on the new job Shailesh.
SHAILESH VARA: Thank you very much Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Nice to speak to you. MP for North West Cambridgeshire, and of course the Courts Minister.