BBC apologises after broadcasting footage of online court hearing

The BBC has apologised after broadcasting a snippet of footage of an online High Court hearing without permission.

A barrister representing the BBC on Friday offered an apology after two senior judges began contempt of court proceedings.

Trevor Burke QC said an internal BBC investigation had begun.

He estimated that about 450,000 people had seen the footage, broadcast on the BBC’s South East Today, in mid-November.

The footage showed part of a hearing, staged in November, relating to oil drilling near Gatwick. Environmental campaigner Sarah Finch had challenged Surrey County Council’s decision to allow a well six miles from her home in Redhill, Surrey, to be extended. She is waiting for a judge’s ruling.

Two judges on Friday began considering whether the BBC was in contempt at a separate High Court hearing in London.

Lady Justice Andrews and Mr Justice Warby oversaw a preliminary hearing and made no rulings.

They are due to oversee a further hearing in the near future.

Legislation which is nearly 100 years old bans the taking of photographs in court hearings.

The 1925 Criminal Justice Act says “no person” shall “take or attempt to take in any court any photograph, or with a view to publication make or attempt to make in any court any portrait or sketch, of any person”.

Senior judges have ruled that the taking of photographs, or film, in court can also be a contempt of court.

Trials are currently regularly being conducted online because of coronavirus, and legislation recently introduced also makes taking screenshots or broadcasting footage an offence.

The 2020 Coronavirus Act says: “It is an offence for a person to make, or attempt to make – (a) an unauthorised recording, or (b) an unauthorised transmission, of an image or sound which is being broadcast.”