U.K. Justice Minister Backs T.V. Broadcasts of Courts

LONDON-- Plans are under way to allow TV cameras into some courts in England and Wales so the public can judge the judicial system's performance, British officials said Tuesday.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said he will propose legislation that initially allows broadcasts of judges' rulings in the Court of Appeal, and then moves on to broadcasting sentences in the country's lower courts.

Clarke emphasized that he would proceed cautiously and that he would ensure the practice won't allow offenders a chance to preen before the camera.

"We will work to ensure this does not hinder the administration of justice and that it protects victims, witnesses, offenders and jurors," Clark promised. He did not set an effective date.

Britain's broadcasters have been lobbying for the change for years. Cameras are banned from all courts in England and Wales -- except the Supreme Court, Britain's highest court, where filming of the proceedings were allowed two years ago. Scotland has allowed television coverage of some court proceedings since 1992.

The ban on filming victims, witnesses, offenders and jurors inside court will remain, Clarke said.

Clarke's announcement was met by mixed reactions Tuesday. Some welcomed it, saying it would enhance transparency, while others said they feared cameras in court may turn justice into a reality show or a media circus, such as that surrounding the murder trial of O.J. Simpson in the 1990s.

"Public trust in the criminal justice system may be enhanced by the broadcasting of sentencing remarks," said Peter Lodder, chairman of the Bar Council. "All sentencing decisions are explained fully, but the full extent of the judge's remarks is often unreported."

In a written statement to the House of Commons, Clarke announced his agency would also begin to publish statistics on court performance, re-offending rates for every area and prison in England and Wales, and data on the age, sex and ethnicity of every person sentenced.