The UK’s highest court of appeal has sensibly said that since its cases do not involve interaction with witnesses or jurors, subject to limited exceptions “any member of a legal team or member of the public is free to use text-based communications from court, providing (i) these are silent; and (ii) there is no disruption to the proceedings in court“.
The guidance also emphasises that WiFi is available throughout the building, just to make broadcasting those live text-based communications that bit easier.
The Supreme Court’s rules expand on the interim rules published by the Lord Chief Justice in December (see my post), which said that tweeting was generally fine but would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
In the Supreme Court, tweeting will not be allowed in certain limited circumstances:
- Where reporting restrictions have been put in place by the court
- In a case involving a child, where anonymity is of the essence, text-based communications will be permitted, but any breach of the anonymity will be treated as a contempt of court.
- Where the UKSC orders that a judgment should not be reported in order not to influence other proceedings taking place in the lower court
The court’s press release is welcoming to tweeters. Lord Phillips, the court’s head said:
The rapid development of communications technology brings with it both opportunities and challenges for the justice system. An undoubted benefit is that regular updates can be shared with many people outside the court, in real time, which can enhance public interest in the progress of a case and keep those who are interested better informed.
The guidance follows the international focus (on Twitter at least) on the Julian Assange bail hearings. At the first hearing at Westminster magistrates court, two tweeters were given permission to tweet (see my post). At the second, in the high court, Mr Justice Ouseley refused permission for anyone to tweet.
It is heartening that the Supreme Court continues to embrace communications technology as a means of ensuring access to justice and fulfilling its statutory duty to make the court accessible to the public. Its website is excellent, providing instant and well-written press releases to accompany judgments, and (in theory at least) hearings can be broadcast on television or via the internet.
Law is difficult to understand, and the more people who are allowed to disseminate and interpret hearings and judgments through different media, the better.
Now tweeters should feel uninhibited to report on hearings as they happen. Please let us know via @ukhumanrightsb if you are tweeting from the court, and we will promote those tweets. In short, get tweeting!
Update, 7 Feb 2011 – The Lord Chief Justice has opened a consultation on the topic of “live text based communications” in court, following the recent interim guidance. The closing date for responses is 4 May 2011. Note that the Lord Chief Justice’s guidance does not and will not affect the Supreme Court, which is independent and has produced its own policy already.
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