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Vested interests breathe sigh of relief as Lord Hamilton bans “Tweeting” in Scottish courts ‘for now’, while English ‘tweet on’ with judicial blessing

14 Dec

Lord Hamiltion TwitterSpot the difference : Scotland’s Lord President Lord Hamilton continues ban on tweets in Scottish Courts for now while England can tweet away. TWEETING from a mobile phone or other electronic device in a Scottish court is still likely to get you sent down for contempt of court “until full consideration can be given to formulating suitable guidance” said Scotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton today after the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales cleared journalists & legal commentators to use text based devices such as mobile phones & laptops to communicate from court.

While the guidance from England’s courts confirm journalists & legal commentators south of the border can now tweet with judicial blessing & without asking the court’s prior permission, members of the public are still required to make an application to tweet.

A Press Release, issuing the guidance from the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales states : 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

The Lord Chief Justice for England & Wales, said : “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,” 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.

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. “the 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. Photography in court remains strictly forbidden under the Criminal Justice Act 1925.

Responding to the development in England & Wales, Scotland’s Lord President Lord Hamilton issued a statement continuing the ban on tweets & the use of electronic devices in Scotland’s Courts. Lord Hamilton said : “I note the Guidance issued today by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales on the use of live text based communication from court.  I will give full consideration to this Guidance and its implications with a view to formulating suitable Guidance in Scotland”.

The statement from the judicial office for Scotland went onto say “Currently the permission of the court is required to use devices that allow live text based communication from court.  That position remains unchanged.”

Tweets were first used in the trial of Tommy Sheridan earlier this year, where the judge, Lord Bracadale agreed tweets could be used in court for the first time in the perjury case’ sentencing phase which also saw leaks of interview tapes from Lothian & Borders Police of Mr Sheridan’s wife being accused of adopting ‘terrorist tactics’ of looking at a fixed position during interrogation. No inquiry has ever taken place into who at Lothian & Borders Police leaked the tapes to a media organisation and no one has been arrested for leaking the tapes, an act which is thought to be a criminal offence in itself.

Clearly Scottish Courts may not be too happy about court observers tweeting yet another crooked lawyer or some other vested interest managed to wriggle out of a court case against them … possibly because Twitter would end up collapsing under the weight of Tweets of injustice … or that the numbers might start adding up on who is actually being provided access to justice in Scotland … not ordinary Scots, that’s for sure.

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