Thursday, October 31, 2013, 09:30
Breaking news is a fast paced business but today marks the culmination of a slow-burn campaign led by Sky News which started more than a decade ago. For the first time, video cameras will be allowed into the Court of Appeal in London – a first step down a road which we hope will eventually make TV cameras in courts widely accepted.
Sky News, along with the BBC, ITN and Press Association have worked together with the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice to agree the rules governing this landmark development. I was one of the broadcasters who first started discussing the idea with the government in 2002. Since then Lord Chancellors have come and gone but we have stuck at it and finally achieved a breakthrough when the coalition government announced in 2011 they would allow cameras limited access to courtrooms.
It is intended that the filming will open up the workings of the Appeal Court, engage the public in the legal system and make justice more transparent. Negotiations have been extremely detailed– everything from where we can position our cameras to the framing of the shots has had to be explicitly agreed between all the parties. Understandably the Judges are very cautious and want to be sure it will not interfere with the process of justice. We are confident that it will not.
Many countries allow filming in courtrooms. Since 1992 some filming has been allowed in limited circumstances in Scotland, with the most notable instance being the recent murder trial for Nat Fraser, broadcast by Channel 4 in July 2013, but it is strictly controlled and is really only useful for documentaries long after the event. Our ambition for the Court of Appeal is to use the material for on-the-day news.
Although jointly funded by all four media organisations, George Davies, the Head of Cameras for Sky News and his colleagues have played a pivotal role on the technical side of the project, itself an enormous challenge. To install robotic, wirelessly operated cameras linked to a bespoke control desk was hard enough. In addition we had to develop two separate delay systems – one for the Judges to block anything they do not want broadcast and one for us to ensure that nothing goes out which might breach the Ofcom code. The Court Video Journalist, Matt Nicholls, although jointly funded, is technically employed by Sky. Matt is an experienced court reporter, with two law degrees, but is also very able technically. His role is consummate multi-skilling. He will be producer, director, vision mixer and rigger rolled into one and will deploy and operate the production equipment and mobile cameras. Matt also co-ordinates with newsdesks at the media partners regarding which cases to cover.
Not everything in the Court of Appeal is dramatic or exciting. Legal arguments can be arcane and sometimes quite dry. But this is a first step. It’s up to the broadcasters to show they can use the access responsibly and effectively to persuade the judges to allow us into criminal trials at courts like the Old Bailey.