In the Media

Lord Chief Justice tells court reporters: ?Twitter as much as you like?

PUBLISHED December 14, 2011

Tweeting, texting or e-mailing from court is to be automatically permitted in future by the media and legal commentators, the Lord Chief Justice said today.

But members of the public will have to apply for permission, Lord Judge announced.

As he handed down new guidance on using laptops and hand-held devices to communicate directly from courts in England and Wales, Lord Judge told reporters present: ?Twitter as much as you like from today.?

But judges may prohibit live, text-based communications from court ?at any time? if they appear to be interfering with the administration of justice.

Interim guidance was first issued on December 20, 2010, under which journalists had to apply to a judge for permission to use electronic devices to send text.

Lord Judge then consulted widely, including with the media, the Secretary of State for Justice, the Attorney General and the public.

Today?s guidance, which takes immediate effect, makes clear that in future there is no need for representatives of the media and legal commentators to make an application to use text-based devices from court.

The requirement for the public to make a formal or informal application reflects the view that the media is more likely to understand the rules of contempt of court.

The guidance is entitled ?The use of live text-based forms of communication (including Twitter) from court for the purposes of fair and accurate reporting?.

It applies to court proceedings that are open to the public and ?to those parts of the proceedings which are not subject to reporting restrictions?.

The guidance covers the use that may be made of live text-based communications such as mobile e-mail, social media (including Twitter) and internet-enabled laptops in and from courts throughout England and Wales.

Lord Judge said: ?The judge has an overriding responsibility to ensure that proceedings are conducted consistently with the proper administration of justice, and to avoid any improper interference with its processes.

?A fundamental aspect of the proper administration of justice is the principle of open justice. Fair and accurate reporting of court proceedings forms part of that principle.?

The guidance makes clear that photography in court remains strictly forbidden.

And it emphasises that anyone using electronic text is strictly bound by the existing restrictions on reporting court proceedings under the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

Lord Judge said: ?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.

?This is because 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.

?As such, a representative of the media or a legal commentator who wishes to use live, text-based communications from court may do so without making an application to the court.?

He said: ?When considering, either generally on its own motion, or following a formal application or informal request by a member of the public, whether to permit live, text-based communications, and if so by whom, the paramount question for the judge will be whether the application may interfere with the proper administration of justice.?

The judge added: ?Without being exhaustive, the danger to the administration of justice is likely to be at its most acute in the context of criminal trials e.g., 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, or where information posted on, for instance, Twitter about inadmissible evidence may influence members of a jury.

He said that the danger was ?not confined to criminal proceedings.?

?In civil and sometimes family proceedings, simultaneous reporting from the courtroom may create pressure on witnesses, distracting or worrying them.

?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.

That could arise, he said, if it was ?necessary to limit the number of mobile electronic devices in use at any given time because of the potential for electronic interference with the court?s own sound recording equipment, or because the widespread use of such devices in court may cause a distraction in the proceedings?.

The judge concluded: ?Subject to these considerations, the use of an unobtrusive, hand held, 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 administration of justice.?