On December 20th, The Lord Chief Justice in the United Kingdom declared, “the use of an unobtrusive, hand-held, virtually silent piece of modern equipment for the purposes of simultaneous reporting of proceedings to the outside world as they unfold in court is unlikely to interfere with the proper administration of justice.” In short, social media just received an official invitation into British courtrooms.
The ruling was prompted by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s bail hearings during which reporters used Twitter to provide live updates of proceedings. The Lord Chief Justice issued an interim guidance which will be put into immediate effect, and then followed up with a review. While the recording of video and audio remains illegal in U.K courtrooms, the guidance significantly increases the public’s access to courtroom proceedings in the United Kingdom.
Essentially, the guideline provides judges the freedom to control social media access on a case by case basis; particular attention will be placed on criminal cases where participants outside the courtroom could become privy to court proceedings before their official involvement in the judicial process; “There is no statutory prohibition on the use of live text-based communications in open court. But before such use is permitted, the court must be satisfied that its use does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case.”
While social media has been creeping its way into courtrooms around the world, the ruling in the United Kingdom is significant in that it sets an example of more comprehensive guidelines for social media and its use in judicial proceedings. On the one hand, what happens when a tweet influences a court proceeding? What happens when an inaccurate tweet starts trending? While social media’s presence in the courtroom is inevitable, its official invitation provides freedom, but a distinct lack of concrete solutions.
On the other hand, this provides the public greater access to the judicial system – an integral part of democracy, and with that access, social media might also re-ignite public interest in the justice system.