Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tweeting in the courtroom? Yes we can!

The Lord Chief Justice in the UK allows journalists to report some court proceedings by using Twitter, texting and email. He made it clear though that it would not happen if it could influence witnesses.

Media organizations and journalists can now apply for permission to use social media on a case-by-case basis. Non-journalists could still be barred in order to ensure the "proper administration of justice". This would prevent distractions in court and limit the potential for interference with courts' own recording equipment. The guidance applies only to courts in England and Wales.
For now, anyone who wants to tweet in court needs to get the judge’s permission. In criminal trials tweeting will quite likely be forbidden when there is a risk that witnesses who are out of court would be able to find out what is happening inside.

The Lord Chief Justice explained: "The judge has an overriding responsibility to ensure that proceedings are conducted consistently with the proper administration of justice, and so as to avoid any improper interference with its processes. There is no statutory prohibition on the use of live text-based communications in open court. But before such use is 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. Subject to this consideration, the use of an unobtrusive, handheld, 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."

Interesting enough, the Twitter guidance comes days after WikiLeaks Assange's court hearing. Mr Justice Ouseley ruled during that hearing that supporters and journalists should tweet about was happening in real time. At an earlier bail hearing, district judge Howard Riddle did allow tweeting from Westminster Magistrates Court, saying journalists could send messages if they were discreet and did not interfere with the judicial process.

If the same policy would apply to let video cameras in court, justice would be seen on TV, online and on mobiles. Is this the way to go?

On the other side of the Pond, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Marten allowed in 2009 a reporter to Twitter court proceedings in a trial of six Crips gang defendants taking place in his Wichita, Kansas courtroom.

"The more we can do to open the process to the public, the greater the public understanding," the judge said when asked about lawyers' concerns that jurors might be influenced by the tweets.

So where will it end? Does tweeting serve a purpose in court room?

To quote Andrew Cohen: “The difference between a reporter tweeting in the courtroom and a reporter doing the same during the breaks and phoning it in is not that great."

Ita Est

(Image courtesy of Courtoons & David E. Mills)

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