Lord Gill backs live court filming

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Published: Wednesday 28th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Filming of some court proceedings in Scotland should be allowed for live transmission, the country’s most senior judge has announced.

Lord Gill said that it should be allowed in the case of civil and criminal appeals and legal debates in civil “first instance” proceedings.

Criminal trials may be filmed for documentary purposes, but not in cases involving children, sexual offences and vulnerable witnesses, and only “in certain circumstances and subject to certain safeguards”.

Filming should be subject to “robust, clear and comprehensive guidelines”, Lord Gill said.

The recommendations were contained in a report on the televising of proceedings in court which was carried out by Lady Dorrian.

Lord Gill, the Lord President, said he accepted all of the recommendations in the report, which was published today.

He said that filming the judge delivering sentencing remarks should be allowed, with filming focused only on the judge.

Filming for documentary purposes may also be allowed in first instance civil business but should exclude certain cases, such as those involving family and immigration matters.

However, no live transmission should be allowed for any criminal first instance business, or for first instance civil proceedings involving witnesses.

The judge says he intends to issue guidance to the media and may consult with them further on practical points.

Lord Gill announced the findings of the report at the Holyrood Digital Justice Conference today.

He also set out the timetable for implementing reforms contained in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014.

The bill, which became law in November, is designed to make access to the civil justice system quicker and reduce costs and delays for litigants, who previously have had to take civil cases of more than £5,000 to the Court of Session for resolution.

Lord Gill said: “The whole purpose of these reforms is to maximise the efficiency and the output of the courts.

“We can no longer allow the progress of an action to be dictated by the convenience of the parties or their lawyers. The court has interests and responsibilities of its own.

“The new regime is logical and rational. It is long overdue. I am confident that the legal profession will adapt to it and contribute to its success.”

Legislation meaning sheriffs can now deal with cases up to £100,000 will take effect in September, Lord Gill said.

That month a new specialist personal injury court will be established in Edinburgh to free up the Court of Session to focus on more complex cases while a national Sheriff Appeal Court will be established.

At first, the Sheriff Appeal Court will have jurisdiction for criminal cases and after January 2016 will also have jurisdiction in civil cases.

Under the new law, summary sheriffs will deal with some types of criminal and civil cases in the sheriff courts and the process of appointing them will start in July.

Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC will be appointed as President of the Sheriff Appeal Court.

In his speech, Lord Gill considered the impact of technology on the legal system and predicted a move towards the “paperless court” and the “virtual court”.

He said: “Digital innovation is essential if we are to improve access to justice, reduce time and expense for the litigant, and ease the administrative burden on our court staff.

“But access to justice should not operate solely in favour of those already using the system.

“Access to justice encompasses a broader aim – to open our courts to public scrutiny and to public understanding and, in that way, to de-mystify our law and its procedures.”

Lord Gill also announced that he plans to launch a feasibility study into the creation of an Energy and Natural Resources Court in the Court of Session.

James Wolffe, QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “I welcome the Lord President’s vision of a civil court system responsive to the needs of litigants which harnesses technology to serve the ends of justice. In making that vision a reality, the legal profession – both advocates and solicitors – will have a key role to play.

“It is now time to put controversy behind us and to get on with the job of making justice work for all the people of Scotland. The Faculty of Advocates – Scotland’s national bar – stands ready for that task.

“The civil justice system matters. An efficient and effective court system, along with a skilled and independent legal profession, underpins and guarantees a just and economically successful society.

“The Lord President’s announcement that he intends to carry out a feasibility study on the creation of an Energy and Natural Resources Court in the Court of Session – a proposal which I support – should send a powerful signal that the Scottish courts, along with Scotland’s highly skilled legal profession, mean business.”

Journalists should also be allowed to use Twitter in the courtroom if they have registered with the Scottish Court Service or have the judge’s permission.

Lord Gill said: “Journalists who register with the Scottish Court Service to gain access to the electronic portal-based system should also be required to undertake compliance with the Contempt of Court Act.

“Journalists so registered should be permitted to use live text-based communication. Any person who is not on the register should require the permission of the presiding judge.”

Published: Wednesday 28th January 2015 by The News Editor

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