Dec 142011

The Guardian reports that journalists “no longer have to make an application to tweet, text or email from courts in England and Wales following guidance issued by the lord chief justice, Lord Judge.”

“Twitter as much as you wish,” he said as he delivered the guidance which takes immediate effect and covers the use of electronic devices including phones and small handheld laptops for live text-based communications.

The guidance itself, however, is a bit more limiting.  For one thing, the guidance “emphasises that anyone using electronic text is strictly bound by the existing restrictions on reporting court proceedings under the Contempt of Court Act 1925.”  Judges also retain the power to withdraw permission “at any time.”

The “paramount question” for the judge in deciding whether to allow tweeting is whether it may interfere with the administration of justice.

Judge said the “danger … is likely to be at its most acute in the context of criminal trials, eg where witnesses who are out of court may be informed of what has already happened in court and so coached or briefed before they then give evidence”, or where legal discussions in the absence of the jury may appear on the internet and be seen by jury members.

The guidance also contemplates technical considerations motivating a disconnect.

“That may arise if it is necessary, for example, to limit the number of mobile electronic devices in use at any given time, because of the potential for electronic interference with the court’s own sound recording equipment, or because the widespread use of such devices in court may cause a distraction in the proceedings.”

Nonetheless, “[s]ubject to these considerations, the use of an unobtrusive, handheld silent piece of modern equipment for the purposes of simultaneous reporting of proceedings to the outside world as they unfold in court is generally unlikely to interfere with the proper administration of justice.”

This guidance also allows members of the public to tweet, but, notably, they, unlike professional journalists, must get permission from the court in advance.  “A fundamental aspect of the proper administration of justice is open justice. Fair, accurate and, where possible, immediate reporting of court proceedings forms part of that principle,” the article quotes Judge.  However “the guidance states it is presumed media or legal commentators do not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice.”

Photography and tape-recording in court remains forbidden.

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