You are here

Lord Judge: journalists may tweet from court, in silence

20 December 2010

Tweeting live from a trial is to remain the exception and may be restricted to journalists only according to interim guidance on the use of social media in court issued this morning.

The judicial communications office said the new guidance should minimise the disruption to trials caused by reporters going in and out of court to file hearing updates. In theory the guidance should also allow journalists to file copy from the courtroom.

The rule remains that mobile phones should be turned off in court and that anybody wishing to turn on their mobile phone or other electronic equipment such as a laptop would have to make an application to the court. Solicitors Journal understands that in most instances it will be sufficient to approach court staff for permission.

Unveiling the guidance Lord Judge said the principles underlying the ban on sound recordings, which are prohibited unless the court permits it, should be extended to the use of live, text-based communications.

The Lord Chief Justice said there was no statutory prohibition on the use of live text-based communications in open court but, before such use was permitted, “the court must be satisfied that its use does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case”.

He went on: “Subject to this consideration, the use of an unobtrusive, hand held, virtually 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.”

“The most obvious purpose of permitting the use of live, text-based communications would be to enable the media to produce fair and accurate reports of the proceedings,” Lord Judge continued.

He expressed concern that use of Twitter in criminal trials could interfere with the administration of justice, with a risk that it could influence witnesses or members of the jury. Live reporting from court could also pose a risk in civil and family proceedings should also be considered, he said, where it may “create pressure on witnesses, distracting or worrying them”.

While not banning members of the public from tweeting, the guidance unambiguously refers to the purposes of “fair and accurate reporting” and provides that “it may be necessary for the judge to limit live, text-based communications to representatives of the media for journalistic purposes but to disallow its use by the wider public in court”.

A consultation on the use of Twitter and other live, text-based communications in court will be conducted in the new year.

Categorised in:

Procedures Local government The Bar