Tweeting from court and open justice

The impact of social media on modern life continues to be felt on a daily basis. The latest was the decision by a district judge to allow tweeting from the court in the Julian Assange case, which was a significant moment in the development of open justice.

And as David Banks wrote in The Guardian on 15 December:

“The sky did not fall in as a result of yesterday’s tweeting, so why not allow it again? For the decision to gain wider acceptance we really need a crown court judge or high court judge to follow suit.”

In a recent blog I talked about how introducing cameras into courts, and even social media into courts, would support justice being seen to be done. And I outlined how hyperlocal websites could open a window onto the justice system. This latest case now makes that appear even closer. There is now clear possibility that in the future we may have more use of social media and networks from court cases. It could allow the public greater access to the legal system and really is the opportunity to see justice being done. Surely this is something that the media have been attempting to do over many years.

The brevity of tweets has been raised as a possible area of concern about possible contempt issues by not being able to sum up the activity in just 140 characters. But this should not be about a single tweet, it is about providing a string of tweets that together provide an insight into proceedings. And as Banks says the use of live blogs can help.

There is a concern that all this is still dependent on the traditional media infrastructure. The world is moving on and that is not the only way that information is now published. What we need is some clear guidance on this area and the legal issues. The face of communication in 2010 and 2011 is changing and the authorities need to keep pace. Simple guidelines would make it simpler for the citizen journalist or member of the public to understand their responsibilities and the issues, and would not be only for the trained journalist.

Just because we currently don’t have that guidance, as the recent case has shown, it will not stop the world moving on.

Open access to the courts is just part of the story about providing information to the public about issues that matter to them and their communities. Tweeting is now a regular occurrence at public meetings including council and police authority meetings. These feeds have an interest to those people affected. Currently the success of Twitter in these examples is very much dependent on the ability of the journalist to use social networks. In the future I am sure this is not going to be the case. We will see local people taking an interest and providing updates from a range of venues.

The more social networks such as Twitter become part of modern life, the more organisations need to keep up with the changing communication landscape. Failing to do so will put businesses and companies behind the public struggling to catch up. Organisations need to see it, understand it and start working with it – and they need to do it now.

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2 Responses to Tweeting from court and open justice

  1. David says:

    Thanks for a great post. I’ve spent many hours on (normally hard, uncomfortable) press benches in all sorts of courts and perhaps tweeting would have helped cure some of the boredom!

    But seriously, I do have some reservations about people focusing too much on using Twitter for reporting from court. Whereas at a public meeting you can’t do that much damage with a tweet which tries to sum up a segment of conversation in 140 characters, providing fair and balanced coverage of court case in a series of tweets poses many pitfalls. The Liverpool ECHO liveblogged the Rhys Jones trial over two years ago, covering it in a depth which wouldn’t have been possible any other way. It allowed for instant coverage but without a restriction of characters. That was only possible because a second court was turned over for press, so it was harder for a judge to say liveblogging would disturb the hearing.

    The principle of live reporting from courts does need to be addressed, and I think you’re right when you say guidelines would need to be produced to explain to people how court works. It’s very easy to miss the passing of a court order – or to misunderstand it. How we get the judicial process to move to that point is another matter, sadly.


  2. Pingback: Tweeting from court? 140 characters which will spell trouble for journalists « David Higgerson

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