Stop the camera – no filming in court!

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Stop the camera – no filming in court!

The question of whether to allow the filming of what takes place in a court room is discussed from time to time. Post Covid, when many hearings moved online out of necessity, you may have seen all or part of a hearing live streamed. The live streaming of all or part of a hearing forms part of the justice system being more open and accessible to the public. However, it is recognised that this needs to be carefully balanced against the need to consider those witnesses giving evidence, and safeguarding of those that must remain anonymous. Members of the public can attend (most) hearings in person, and now can watch Court of Appeal cases, which have been live streamed on a dedicated YouTube Channel, or cases taking place in the Supreme Court. There has also been the live streaming of sentencing remarks in criminal cases.

It is important to emphasise that this filming and/or live streaming has been expressly permitted. It remains illegal to take photographs, film or make recordings in court or any part of the court building. This rule also applies to remote hearings and means that even if the hearing is being live streamed to the world, you cannot take a photograph or make your own recording. If you do, you would likely be held to be in contempt of court, which carries the risk of a custodial sentence.

On 31 May 2024, an unusual set of circumstances came before the County Court at Bournemouth in the case of the Department of Transport & Others v Robert Hood. The hearing was to deal with the sentencing of the defendant, Mr Robert Hood, for various contempts that had been found proven. In the opening of the written Judgment, the Judge recorded that Mr Hood was not present for his committal for contempt of court, which he acknowledged was exceptional. Mr Hood was not willing to surrender his mobile phone, which meant that he was not able to enter the Court room. At a previous hearing, Mr Hood had filmed himself attempting to arrest a District Judge and posted the footage on to social media. Mr Hood had also stated that he had brought handcuffs to court for the purposes of arresting the Judge. The Judge acknowledged that it was unusual to proceed with a committal sentencing hearing without a defendant in attendance but pointed to the unique situation of recording by Mr Hood.

The background facts to the case are fairly innocuous in that Mr Hood was a driving instructor. In 2020, Mr Hood presented a candidate for a driving test, who unfortunately failed. Mr Hood was convinced the failure was unfair and he complained in what was found to be an aggressive manner. The complaint expanded into a general allegation of fraud and corruption. Mr Hood also became involved in a dispute with the owner of the franchise under which he traded, who terminated his retainer. Mr Hood was then removed from the register of authorised driving instructors, on the grounds that he was not a fit and proper person.

Mr Hood had posted on various forms of social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (now known as X) his views about the DVSA. The allegations included racism, bullying, theft, fraud, perjury and matters of that kind. Mr Hood also posted the address of one claimant. In January 2023, an injunction was granted that prohibited the posting of names, pictures, addresses, videos or any other personal data identifying the individual claimants and other employees.

Subsequently, there were allegations that Mr Hood breached the injunction. Mr Hood was found to be in breach of the injunction by various applications made.

In January 2024, the Judge gave Mr Hood time to remove the offending posts and deferred sentencing. The Judge recorded in the order that he had expected the posts to be removed.

Ultimately, on 31 May 2024, the sentence imposed on Mr Hood included a custodial sentence of three months.

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