Twitter Rejected by Judge as a Means to “Live Broadcast” Trial Verdict and Sentence

A UK judge rejected a newspaper’s application to use Twitter to “live broadcast” the verdict and sentences in the case of two men charged with helping gunman Raoul Moat, a notorious murderer from Newcastle who died last year after a police manhunt and the ensuing standoff ended in his suicide.

The application was submitted to the judge while the jury was considering verdicts in the case of Karl Ness and Qhuran Awan, and the judge’s rejection of Twitter broadcasts seems to center more on the late nature of the application and uncertainty regarding the specifics of its usage more so than the actual concept of tweeted verdicts and sentences.

Justice McCombe’s ruling stated,  “The traditional view has been that the use of such communications should not be permitted.”  He further went on to say, “”In general terms, and as present advised, I think that there would be much to commend the grant of permission to report verdicts in an instantaneous manner, unobtrusively from the court room.

Unfortunately, to the prejudice of the orderly transaction of court proceedings, a tendency has arisen among press representatives to rush headlong from the court immediately when verdicts are announced, without regard to the fact that the court is still in session and further matters have still to be dealt with by the court after pronouncement of the verdicts.

If restraint cannot be exercised in such circumstances, then perhaps instantaneous communication has to be accepted as the only solution.

Sentence, however, is another matter.”

This is yet another instance where the legalities and boundaries surrounding the use of Twitter have come into question, most notably in the WikiLeaks trial that caused its judge to allow Twittter in UK courtrooms, noting it should be determined on a case by case basis.

In the US, the Supreme Court recently ruled that Twitter may be allowed in their cases, given that there are no witnesses and juries present. Lower courts must still decide on a case by case basis if Twitter (or online coverage in general) is to be allowed, but there’s understandably more hesitation when questions such as witness contamination or improper context being provided regarding testimonities, but the trend of live tweeting a trial is generally on the rise.

Canadian courtrooms are also seeing Twitter broadcasts of trials on an increasingly frequent basis. Major cases such as former mayor Larry O’Brien’s election bribery trial in Ottawa,Omar Khadr’s latest legal proceedings in Guantanamo Bay, and Mark Twitchell’s murder trial in Edmonton were all covered to extent on Twitter.

For those parties interested in actively following a trial, it’s yet another way to stay informed and participate in play by play discussions with fellow observers.

One can only imagine the lack of productivity that would have fallen over corporate America if the OJ Simpson trial had been live tweeted back in the day.