UK Lord Chief Justice lets people Twitter in court

The UK’s Lord Chief Justice has issued an interim guidance ruling today that reporting on Twitter from courtrooms is permissable with immediate effect, but only on a case-by-case basis.

The approval only applies to England and Wales, but it’s a major breakthrough for journalists who employ social media to keep people informed about major developments. With such high-profile cases like that of Julian Assange being brought before the courts, using Twitter and other social media is becoming a popular way to stay up to date on proceedings.

The ruling today also applies to text messages from mobile phones and email. Other social media sites like Facebook and MySpace were not explicitly mentioned, but the guidelines suggest that they would also be allowed.

Only journalists and media organisations can avail of this ability, however, as the judge believed that allowing anyone to use it could intefere with the proceedings or cause distractions. 

Permission must be sought from the judge in question before using social media in the courtroom and that permission may also be withdrawn from reporters if it is believed that it will intefere with the case in any regard.

The ruling current acts as a guidance only, with a consultation on the use of social media in courtrooms being planned between the following bodies: Judiciary, Secretary of State for Justice, Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Bar Council and Law Society, Press Complaints Commission and Society of Editors. Members of the public are also invited to offer their views.

Today’s decision follows a ban on the use of Twitter and other social media in the courtroom by Mr. Justice Ouseley last week. The judge ruled that reporters and members of the public who had gathered at Julian Assange’s hearing should not tweet the proceedings of the court while the case was being heard.