Is it legal to take pictures… of a courtroom building?
The Criminal Justice Act 1925, section 41, makes it an offence to take or attempt to take a photograph in any court, or to publish any photograph so taken. The prohibition also applies to portraits or sketches of a judge, juror, witness or party to the court proceedings. A court means any court of justice including a coroner’s court.
The Act was amended by the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 to exclude the new United Kingdom Supreme Court (due to open in 2009) from the definition of a court.
The Act says that a photograph will be deemed to be made in court if it’s taken in the courtroom or in the building or in the precincts of the building in which the court is held.
‘Precincts’ are not defined and what constitutes the precincts of a court depends on the individual court and, to some extent, on the individual case, since a court can declare the limits of its own precincts.
The penalty for taking photographs in court under the 1925 Act is a fine. However, in recent years there have been prosecutions for taking photographs in court using mobile phones and these have been prosecuted as contempt of court, resulting in prison sentences.
Press photographers don’t have a special licence to take photographs in the precincts of a court, but it does appear that such photography is generally ignored by the authorities, though in theory it could be prosecuted.
The purpose of the prohibition is to protect the administration of justice and not to prevent photography of the court building as such. Photographs of the court building when the court is not in session should not pose any problems under the 1925 Act, but taking such photos might draw police attention because of security considerations.
The 1925 Act does not apply to Scotland, where there are no statutory restrictions on photography in the courts. There has been some limited broadcasting of court hearings in Scotland, but it’s very strictly controlled and there’s certainly no general freedom to take photographs in court.