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Bloggers allowed to tweet from court

14 December 2011

Journalists will be able to tweet from court without having to apply for prior permission from judges under new guidance issued this morning by the Lord Chief Justice.

The rule, which relaxes earlier guidance requiring prior authorisation from the court, will extend to bloggers not associated with mainstream media.

It will apply to all communications made using a laptop, smartphone or other hand-held electronic devices to send emails or text messages.

Although bloggers are not specifically mentioned in the guidance, Solicitors Journal understands they will fall under the 'legal commentator' category of reporters benefiting from a prima facie assumption that their activity is in the interest of open justice.

“It is presumed that a representative of the media or a legal commentator using live, text-based communications from court does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case,” the new guidance says.

In doubt, Solicitors Journal was told, individuals should seek clarification from the court.

“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,” Lord Judge said.

Under the interim guidance published on 20 December 2010, members of the press were required to seek authorisation from the judge before tweeting or using other means of instant communication such as text messaging or email.

But the guidance also makes clear that judges retain discretion to ban live text-based communication using laptops, smartphones and other hand-held or electronic devices from court if the interest of justice demands it.

Mobile phones or other devices used to text or communicate by tweet or email will have to be switched to ‘silence’ mode and may not be used to make or receive calls.

The “paramount question” for the judge in deciding whether to allow live text‐based communications, the Lord Chief Justice said, is whether it may interfere with the administration of justice.

The danger was likely to be “at its most acute” in the context of criminal trials, Lord Judge said, expressing particular concerns 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”.

Legal discussions in the absence of the jury appearing on the internet and seen by jury members was another area of concern.

The risk also exists in civil and family proceedings, the guidance says, where “simultaneous reporting from the courtroom may create pressure on witnesses, distracting or worrying them”.

Ordinary members of the public will still have to make a formal or informal application if they wish to use electronic or hand-held devices but this may be done informally by approaching court staff.

In any event, the use of such devices should not cause a disturbance or distraction to the court process.

Taking photographs remains absolutely prohibited by law. Sound recording is also banned but judges have discretion to allow it.

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