UK Politics

Court television plan revealed in Queen's Speech

Lord Ross at the High Court in Edinburgh in 1996
Image caption Television cameras are already allowed in some Scottish courts

Television cameras will go into some courts in England and Wales under a proposal in the Queen's Speech.

In a separate move, the government has pledged to increase the use of secrecy in courts to protect national security and the intelligence agencies.

The move is opposed by a wide range of lawyers and campaigners who say it will damage justice.

The Queen also said the government intended to create the already announced National Crime Agency.

The proposal to introduce television broadcasting from court is part of the Crime and Courts Bill.

Ministers say they want to "demystify" the justice system and some limited access for television cameras would help. The plan is expected to be confined to very limited circumstances including the Court of Appeal - but excluding broadcasting images of a defendant or witnesses.

The Bill also proposes to establish the National Crime Agency to tackle the most serious and organised crime and strengthen border security. The new agency will take over all of the work of Soca and also cover sexual abuse and exploitation of children and cyber crime.

The Queen said that the bill would also reform courts and tribunals in England and Wales to increase efficiency, transparency and judicial diversity.

The proposals include changing the way judges are appointed and establishing a single system for family courts. Judges will also be allowed to move more easily between different courts.

The bill applies to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with some exceptions.

Secret court plans

Image caption Binyam Mohamed: Challenged government to reveal what it knew about this torture

The Justice and Security Bill aims to expand the use of special "closed" sessions in cases in which claims are being made against the UK's intelligence agencies.

The government has been increasingly concerned that it is under pressure to release sensitive national security material to the public, such as in recent compensation claims by former detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In one case, the courts confirmed that London knew that former detainee Binyam Mohamed had been subjected to ill-treatment.

The government eventually paid millions of pounds in compensation to former Guantanamo detainees in a deal to prevent information held by MI5, MI6 or other departments being revealed in court.

The procedure to close courts is already used in limited circumstances - but the government plans to extend it to all civil cases, including compensation claims and judicial challenges of ministerial decisions.

If the plan goes ahead, special security-cleared lawyers would argue about the material in private.

Ministers say the procedure would allow judges to consider all material relevant to a case even without compromising national security.

But opponents of the legislation say that ministers are purely motivated by embarrassment caused by previous cases and a fear that US intelligence agencies will stop co-operating with the UK .

Human Rights campaign group Liberty described the legislation as a "dangerous and unnecessary move" which would overturn centuries of legal protections.

Clare Algar of Reprieve, a legal charity that has spearheaded many of the cases which would be affected by the proposed changes, said: "Closed courts will not strengthen oversight of the intelligence agencies - in fact, they will do precisely the opposite. They will put the Government above the law.

"The proposals for secret justice would massively skew courts in favour of ministers, and prevent the public from finding out the truth about serious wrongdoing."

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