Monday, 27 February 2012

Open Justice denied permission to tweet from court

By Cristiana Theodoli, @_cric_

On the first day of Open Justice Week we received the disappointing news that we will be not allowed to live tweet a full Scottish trial.
Our colleagues south of the border can now tweet from any trial or court case without having to ask for permission here in Scotland there are no such guidelines and journalists have to apply directly to a trial's judge if they want to use social media to report.
Yet while a good few have applied, not one single journalist has been given permission to tweet a full trial so far.
STV broke new ground up here when they were given permission to tweet Tommy Sheridan's sentencing over a year ago in January 2011 but the issue of tweeting from Scottish courts does not seem to have moved any further forward since.
The biggest obstacle for those trying to give a live account of a Scottish court case is time.
We first started our discussions with the judiciary office a month ago before identifying a specific trial we felt was appropriate to live tweet three weeks ago.
I picked that specific trial as it was the most suited out of those due to start this week. The criteria included type of offence, locus of offence, number of accused and the exact charges.
I will not go into too many details as I could write a whole article about the decision process, but, for instance, I decided not to apply to any case that included alleged sexual offences, while it is just as important for those cases to be covered by us journalists I do feel that there are some aspects of the evidence coming out in these types of cases that is better to keep private out of respect for the victims.
I also felt as this would have been the first full case to be tweeted we should ensure it would not be one likely to cause confusion when followed live online due to too many charges or too many accused.
In future once tweeting from court is something we will all be accustomed to these won't be issues but as a first in Scotland I felt we should be particularly careful.
At that time, on February 8, we were told the application could not go any further as a Judge had not been assigned to the trial.
The cases due to start this week were finally assigned to their respective Judges at the start of last week at which point we asked for the application to be again considered.
Today, just a day or two before the trial is due to start, we received a short email stating that the Judge has a number of concerns that he feels should be taken up at a senior level and the timescale would not allow for it.
The Head of Judicial Communications in Scotland, Elizabeth Cutting, who herself has been of great help throughout the application process, said that eventually guidelines will be put in place but, at the moment, they are still working to ensure those are as comprehensive as possible.
To be clear we are not disappointed at the people involved, we accept in Scotland there has not been a single application to tweet from court during live proceedings granted and that judges want to ensure they look at all aspects.
Yet we do wish the system would allow for more dialogue between those who, like us, are working to ensure the system remains transparent and accountable, and those who ensure due process is followed.

Cristiana Theodoli's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

1 comment:

  1. Bad luck. It's worth noting that LCJ's guidance for England & Wales does make a distinction between journalists/legal commentators and members of the public, which opens up an interesting point for debate:

    "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."