At the opening of a recent High Court hearing, the Queens Counsel for the claimants made an application to permit claimant supporters to tweet from the public gallery, a privilege normally only granted to the press.
Aware that permission had been granted during the two-day hearing, the counsel for the defendant admitted he felt obliged to modify his choice of words. Addressing the courtroom packed with supporters of the claimant, the counsel said he had decided not to refer to some of the protagonists as ‘tame poodles’, as originally intended, due to the presence of the ‘legal twitterati.’
Agreeing to allow the modification, Mr Justice Burnett said he would not be reading the output. The judge also expressed a ‘degree of agitation’ at the claimants’ ‘unattractive’ allegations, in part because they were being reported immediately via social media.
Some courthouses may also not necessarily be social media friendly due to the lack of power sockets at the press benches for charging mobile phones.
Legal application to tweet, text or email in court was first permitted by the Lord Chief Justice in December 2010, and exactly one year later new guidance meant that journalists and legal commentators would no longer have to make legal application. However, members of the public must still seek permission from the court in advance.
Concern has been voiced by barristers over the potential to undermine the due process of justice and there is the potential risk that a tweet could prejudice a court case. At the same time, the government also wishes to ensure openness and better public understanding of how the justice system works. The use of social media is playing an increasing role in the process.
Live broadcasting, albeit with regulatory safeguards and a 70 second time delay, began in October 2013 when cameras were placed in five courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice.