England’s Lord Chief Justice, the appropriately named Lord Judge, has ruled that tweeting should be allowed in court.
He wasn’t referring to bored defendants, but made his decision after journalists used Twitter to give live updates from the trial of Julian Assange last week.
The decision clears up some inconsistency in British law. While recording or transmitting sound or images during a court hearing is illegal, sending electronic messages hasn’t been. But with Twitter representing a form of public broadcast, it fell into something of a grey area.
Reporters have been doing it for some time – and goodness only knows what the judges thought they were up to, fiddling around surreptitiously in their laps.
But before Assange’s bail application last Tuesday a group of them decided to come clean and ask for permission. The judge in the hearing said he had no objection, prompting Lord Judge’s ruling.
Lord judge said he beleived text-based communication should be permitted as long as it didn’t interfere with court proceedings.
“The use of an unobtrusive, hand-held, virtually silent piece of modern equipment for the purposes of simultaneous reporting of proceedings to the outside world as they unfold in court is unlikely to interfere with the proper administration of justice,” he ruled.
Unlike the British judge who famously asked ‘Who are the Beatles?’ at the height of their fame, Lord Judge is no stranger to the modern world. He pogoed very creditably to the Clash at my wedding, for example, until a stray bridesmaid brought him crashing to the floor.
But last month he warned that the internet could be threatening the whole jury system, after a juror started a Facebook poll amongst her mates, asking them ‘Did he do it?’. He added that jurors should be warned not to use the internet to try and research cases for themselves.