On 14 December the Lord Chief Justice issued practice guidance on the use of live text-based forms of communication (including twitter) from court for the purposes of fair and accurate reporting. The guidance applies to proceedings which are open to the public and not subject to reporting restrictions, and follows a consultation on the subject earlier this year. The guidance replaces, but is consistent with, interim guidance issued in December 2010. In summary:
- A representative of the media or a legal commentator may use such communications without obtaining the court’s permission.
- Others must apply for the court’s permission, formally or informally (for instance by communicating a request to the judge through court staff).
- In considering such an application, the paramount question for the judge will be whether it may interfere with the proper administration of justice.
- Subject to various considerations (such as the possibility of putting pressure on witnesses) “the use of an unobtrusive, hand held, silent piece of modern equipment for the purposes of simultaneous reporting of proceedings to the outside world as they unfold in court is generally unlikely to interfere with the proper administration of justice”.
This contrasts with the position in the Supreme Court (see post) where the use of live text-based communications to report on events in court is permitted, so long as such communications are silent and do not disrupt the proceedings.
One obvious implication for parties of the potential use of live text-based communications to report on court proceedings: if you wish to seek reporting restrictions, you need to do so at the outset of the hearing, or as soon as possible. Otherwise there is a risk that the cat will already be out of the bag and cannot be put back again once restrictions are imposed.