Note: This site is very much under construction, but I didn’t want to wait to post this one. Merry Christmas
The Lord Chief Justice has this morning issued guidance saying journalists no longer need to apply for permission to tweet from court proceedings in England and Wales (but not Scotland).
The full official guidance document can be found here, but here are the important paragraphs (emphasis is mine).
9) Where a member of the public, who is in court, wishes to use live text- based communications during court proceedings an application for permission to activate and use, in silent mode, a mobile phone, small laptop or similar piece of equipment, solely in order to make live, text- based communications of the proceedings will need to be made. The application may be made formally or informally (for instance by communicating a request to the judge through court staff).
10) 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.
So, while memers of the public will still have to ask first, reporters will not. The upshot of this for student reporters is that you will need to ensure court officials are aware that you are reporters – particularly if the press bench is full and you are reporting from the public gallery.
It should be obvious, but remains worth pointing out that permission to tweet from court does not override the Contempt of Court Act, Magistrates Court Act or other reporting restrictions imposed by the court. There’s a good amount of trust being placed in reporters to know what they can and can’t report from a courtroom – particularly without the luxury of time to double check copy or obtain legal advice before it’s published.
This is made increasingly difficult because Twitter tends to feel like a “fire and forget” medium when you’re using it, but problematic tweets tend to obtain a life of their own. If you get a tweet wrong, you can’t just remove it – like you would a web article – if it’s been retweeted by others. Once it’s out there, it’s out there – which places a good deal of responsibility on the reporter to know their media law. For your own safety, I would strongly recommend against tweeting from court unless you have passed the NCTJ Court Reporting exam.
Finally, it’s likely that the new guidance will take a while to become common knowledge in regional courtrooms, so it’d probably be worth printing out a copy of the pdf linked above if you intend on tweeting from proceedings in the near future. However, I should also like to draw attention to the final paragraph:
16) Permission to use live, text-based communications from court may be withdrawn by the court at any time.
If I know the wonderful team at, for example, Sheffield Magistrates’ Court – and I think I do – the instances of withdrawal of peromission will be proportional to the vigour with which you make your case. Be polite, be professional and most of all, don’t be smug. You’ll be fine.