Supreme Court welcomes tweeters

3 February 2011 by

Updated | The UK Supreme Court has released guidance on the use of “live text-based communications” from the court. Put simply, tweeting will be allowed in most cases.

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:

  1. Where reporting restrictions have been put in place by the court
  2. 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.
  3. 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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  1. ObiterJ says:

    With respect to Justice of the Peace – he has a good point. I am not entirely in favour of this development since “tweets”, with their limited number of characters, are probably going to be inaccurate much of the time. If this is right, then we are not really achieving better knowledge of the law or due process.

    I also think that the LCJ stated that “tweeting” had to be with the permission of the court ? Has the Supreme Court now said something different? Do we have one rule for them and another rule elsewhere?

    The lowly Magistrates’ Courts do not appear to have been considered in all of this. They were certainly not consulted even though the first use of “twitter” came up in a Magistrates’ Court before a District Judge (MC). That particular magistrates’ court when dealing with extradition cases is far from being the normal magistrates’ court.

  2. Perhaps it could be explained how in a busy magistrates` court often without an usher and rarely with a security officer present we are going to be able to apprehend somebody using a small hand held electronic device in the public gallery to photograph or make an audio recording of the proceedings?

    1. Jon B says:

      It seems pretty clear from the opening paragraph of this post that this only concerns the UKSC. Presumably it has a calmer, more controled atmosphere than a magistrate’s court, which is why the guidance doesn’t seek to discuss those courts.

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