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.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.