London, Mar 20: Television cameras will be allowed into UK crown courts for the first time under a pilot scheme to bring in "more openness" and "transparency", Justice Minister Shailesh Vara announced today.
During the pilot, sentencing remarks made by senior judges at eight courts, including London's Old Bailey, would be filmed but not broadcast.
Announcing the historic scheme, the Indian-origin justice minister Vara said: "My hope is that this will lead to more openness and transparency as to what happens in our courts. Broadcasting sentencing remarks would allow the public to see and hear the judge's decision in their own words," the 55-year-old Conservative leader said.
The footage will not be broadcast but the historic move could pave the way for the first live coverage of Crown Court cases, British media commented.
Filming other court users, including defendants, witnesses and victims, would remain banned. Filming has been allowed only at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. In Scotland, broadcasters have been able to apply to televise court proceedings since 1992 but this rarely happens, the BBC said.
In addition to the Old Bailey, the three-month pilot will run at courts at Southwark in south London, Manchester (Crown Square), Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds and Cardiff.
Commenting on the historic move, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said he would work with the Ministry of Justice to assess the impact of cameras in court.
"I am interested to see how this pilot progresses and will work with the Ministry of Justice to assess the impact of cameras in court," Cwmgiedd was quoted as saying in a Justice Ministry press release.
Crown courts are open to the press and public but filming and recording is banned under section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and the Contempt of Court Act.
Filming has been possible in the Court of Appeal, which is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, since 2013. Proceedings in the Supreme Court - the final court of appeal for civil cases in the UK and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland - have been filmed since it was established in 2009.
"Safeguards will be put in place to make sure victims continue to be supported and the administration of justice is not affected," the ministry press release said.
"The cameras will film only the judge. The filming of all other court users, including staff; victims; witnesses, defendants and advocates will remain prohibited.
The government will work with broadcasters to support the pilot at no cost to the public, the release said.