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Journalists and legal commentators allowed to tweet from court

Lord Chief Justice issues new guidance on live reporting from court

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, has handed down guidance on using laptops and hand?held devices to communicate from courts in England and Wales by using, for example twitter or other social media. The guidance relates to court proceedings open to the public or in respect of which there are no reporting restrictions.

"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," the Lord Chief Justice says. 

Interim guidance on live, text?based communications from courts in England and Wales was first issued on 20 December 2010, following which the Lord Chief Justice consulted widely including the media, the Secretary of State for Justice, the Attorney General and members of the public. After considering the responses he has published new guidance. 

Under the interim guidance journalists had to make an application to the judge to request permission to use electronic devices to send text. 

The new guidance makes clear that there is no longer any need for representatives of the media/legal commentators to make an application to use text?based devices to communicate from court. Members of the public should make a formal or informal application if they wish to use these devices. Use of devices should not cause a disturbance or distraction. 

The judge always retains full discretion to prohibit live, text based communications from court, in the interests of justice. 

The "paramount question" for the judge in deciding whether to allow live text?based communications is whether it may interfere with the administration of justice. 

"[T]he 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 1981.