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More live court TV should be allowed, report recommends

28 January 2015

Live broadcasting, and filming for TV news programmes, of more court proceedings in Scotland is on the way, following the report of a review group appointed by the Lord President.

Chaired by Court of Session judge Lady Dorrian, the group has made a series of recommendations following a public consultation exercise.

Working on the principle of the importance of open justice, while recognising that any steps taken in support of this principle must not pose any risk to the administration of justice, the report recommends:

  • Filming of civil and criminal appeals, and legal debates in civil first instance proceedings, such as judicial review or procedure roll hearings, should be allowed for live transmission. Subsequent news broadcasting and documentary film making should be allowed, subject to clear and comprehensive guidelines.
  • The court should allow criminal trials to be filmed for documentary purposes in certain circumstances, subject to safeguards. Cases involving children, sexual offences, vulnerable witnesses or issues of national security should not be filmed; these exclusions would also apply to legal debates and appeals.
  • No live transmission or filming for subsequent news broadcast should be allowed for criminal first instance business or for civil proceedings involving witnesses, both to prevent additional pressure on witnesses and to avoid the risk of disruption by protesters.
  • For subsequent news broadcasts, the delivery of sentencing remarks of the judge should be permissible, with filming focused only on the sentencing judge.
  • Filming of criminal trials for live transmission should not be allowed.
  • In civil cases at first instance, filming for documentary purposes only should be allowed, but should exclude certain groups such as family cases and those involving asylum seekers.
  • A structured approach should be taken to considering applications to film.
  • All filming should be subject to robust, clear and comprehensive guidelines.
  • Journalists who register in advance with the Scottish Court Service should be permitted the use of live text-based communications such as Twitter from court, subject to guidelines which will be issued in due course. Others should seek the permission of the presiding judge on a case by case basis.

As regards witness consent, the report states: "In our view the general rule should be that an individual’s contribution should only be broadcast in an identifiable way with their consent to broadcasting, but that there should be an overriding public interest exception which would entitle the judge to allow broadcasting without consent." Expert witnesses should be assumed to consent to their evidence being broadcast. However for personal safety reasons, court staff should only be filmed with their consent.

Welcoming the report in his address to the Digital Justice conference in Glasgow today, the Lord President, Lord Gill said:

"I am happy to announce that I accept all of Lady Dorrian’s recommendations.

"Lady Dorrian’s recommendations deal with matters of principle. Our task now will be to translate these principles into practice. I therefore intend to issue guidance to the media to indicate the approach that will be taken in relation to the televising of court proceedings. This may involve further consultation with the media on practical points."

In addition to Lady Dorrian, the review group comprised Lord Bracadale, Lord Woolman, Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen and Sheriff Kevin Drummond, supported by Christopher Nicholson, deputy legal secretary to the Lord President, Elizabeth Cutting, head of judicial communications, and Steven D’Arcy, head of strategy and governance, Judicial Office for Scotland.

Click here to access the report.

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