Lord Chief Justice Extends Live Text-Based Communication from Court

December 15, 2011

Final guidance on the use of ‘live text-based communication’, such as mobile e-mail, social media (including Twitter) and Internet enabled laptops, has been issued by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge. The 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.

‘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 the new guidance, which is available here (pdf).

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. It is suggested that ‘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.