Tweeting in court (with permission) in England and Wales only for now

Victory to Tweeters! The UK’s Lord Chief Justice has ruled in my favour to tweet in court! Assembly committees please take note. – @EamonnMallie

While the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales yesterday issued interim guidance to clarify that “an application, whether formally or informally made [to a judge] can be made by an individual in court to activate and use a mobile phone, small laptop or similar piece of equipment, solely in order to make live, text-based communications of the proceedings” as long as the application does not “interfere with the proper administration of justice”.

There will be circumstances whenever “the danger to the administration of justice is likely to be at its most acute” and live text-based communications will be prohibited. This may include criminal cases, as well as some civil and family proceedings where “simultaneous reporting from the courtroom may create pressure on witnesses [outside the court]”.

And if the volume of tweeters could interfere with court recording equipment, then a judge might limit real-time reporting to “representatives of the media for journalistic purposes but to disallow its use by the wider public”.

A couple of things to note. The interim guidance will be revised following an upcoming “consultation relating to the use of live, text-based communications”.

The interim guidance also only applies to England and Wales.

So what about Northern Ireland? A statement from the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland’s office said that

The Lord Chief Justice’s Office will want to consider the guidance issued yesterday in England & Wales.

So Eamonn shouldn’t hold his breath.

Of course, despite this development, the same small laptops that may be permitted to be used to live-blog court cases in England and Wales cannot be used to type up notes from the proceedings using a word processor. Notebook and paper is needed for that.

And court artists will still have to step outside the court room to recreate a pictorial representation of what’s happening in court as “the statutory prohibition on photography in court, by any means, is absolute”.

So Julian Assange’s court appearances have brought about one partial thawing of court reporting restrictions, but there are many more ice blocks remaining.

, , ,

  • Mark McGregor

    Since you are noting @eamonnmallie – we all can agree and maybe tell him (I did) that tweeting funerals is just wrong.

    We don’t need rules/laws for that? Just a titter of wit and a wee ounce of humanity?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Tweeting may be legal but its still bad manners. Bad manners is something for which we cannot legislate.

  • Frame

    The public can now take notes in court but again only if they have the judge’s permission.

    This detail was supposed to be added to the NI Courts Service website but I can’t see it.

    Details of inquest verdicts still remain inaccessible and secret unless a journalist was present and reported them. David Ford will not relent on this one because of ‘sensitivity’ issues for relatives.

    Why hold an inquest in the first place then, I ask?

  • Rory Carr

    This item on note-taking in court has brought back to me a (not so fond) memory of a day in 1961 when, after school, I attended Downpatrick Assizes to spectate at the trial of Robert McGladdery, a Newry farm labourer, who was charged with the sexual assault and horrific murder of his neignbour, 19 year old Pearl Gamble.

    The case had had to be moved from Newry after the courthouse there was besiged by an angry 500-strong crowd. Filled with fanciful and poorly informed ideas that I alone was witness to what transpired in court and that I might write something on it that would be published I began to take notes in my school notebook as evidence was given of some of the gory details of the victim’s blood-stained clothing until an RUC constable came from behind and firmly instructed me that I must desist immediately. I left the courthouse chastened and slightly fearful for the consequences, for any contact with the law was something fearful back in those days.

    McGladdery, who had protested his innocence despite pretty overwhelming evidence of his guilt, was found guilty by a jury who returned after a very short deliberation and he was later hanged in Crumlin Road gaol, the last man to be hanged in Northern Ireland as I recall.

  • What is the justification for preventing notes in court? Probably so that when the judge orders that certain remarks be struck from the record, he can be sure it was done.