Guidance from lord chief justice means journalists no longer have to make application to tweet, text or email from courts
Journalists no longer have to make an application to tweet, text or email from courts in England and Wales following guidance issued by the lord chief justice, Lord Judge.
“Twitter as much as you wish,” he said as he delivered the guidance which takes immediate effect and covers the use of electronic devices including phones and small handheld laptops for live text-based communications.
The guidance extends that issued last December and now also allows members of the public to tweet, but they, unlike journalists and legal commentators, must seek permission from the court in advance.
Judges retain full discretion to prohibit any live text-based communication from court in the interests of justice, and permission from court may be withdrawn “at any time”.
“A fundamental aspect of the proper administration of justice is open justice. Fair, accurate and, where possible, immediate reporting of court proceedings forms part of that principle,” said Judge.
The guidance follows “prolonged consultation including with the media, the secretary of state for justice, the attorney general and members of the public”.
The “paramount question” for the judge in deciding whether to allow tweeting is whether it may interfere with the administration of justice.
Judge said the “danger … is likely to be at its most acute in the context of criminal trials, eg 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 legal discussions in the absence of the jury may appear on the internet and be seen by jury members.
The guidance emphasises that anyone using electronic text is strictly bound by the existing restrictions on reporting court proceedings under the Contempt of Court Act 1925.
Photography and tape-recording in court remains strictly forbidden.
In the guidance, Judge said: “The normal, indeed almost invariable rule, has been that mobile phones must be turned off in court. There is however no statutory prohibition on the use of live text-based communications in open court.”
While the public must seek permission to use live text communication in advance, the guidance states it is presumed media or legal commentators do not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice.
It might be necessary for a judge to limit such communications to the media but disallow it by the public in some cases.
“That may arise if it is necessary, for example, 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.”
“Subject to these considerations, the use of an unobtrusive, handheld 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.”