Guest post: Judge forbids live tweeting in Isle of Wight case

The hyperlocal site, VentnorBlog, was at the High Court at the end of July, to cover a Leave Hearing for a Judicial Review between an Isle of Wight resident and the Isle of Wight council. In this guest post, VB’s Simon Perry, describes the difficulties they encountered when they tried to report the case live.

Live of Meeting TonightWe made an application, via the Judicial Press Office, the day before, to cover the court case live from the court room, as we understood that recent changes to court protocol had allowed this. They in-turn forwarded it to the judge.

Immediate response – No
During the opening of the court hearing, Judge Pearl raised the subject and announced that his immediate response was “No”.

He felt that as recording or photos weren’t allowed, the same reasoning should be applied to live tweeting. The details were “contemporaneous” in his view.

He then asked both the applicant and defence teams what their views were.

Legal teams asked
The legal team on the Applicant decided not to pursue it (possibly out of a desire not to irritate the judge – some what understandable).

The defence barrister said he agreed with the reasoning of the judge and the applicant team, not adding anything more.

One quote I wrote down was that details might “come out in a misleading way”.

“Only short”
The judge said that, as the court case was “only short” (projected to take only 1.5 hours, it took over three and a half hours in the end), live coverage wasn’t needed, so it “could be reported after”.

I asked the judge if it would be OK to send a quick update, alerting VB readers that I wouldn’t be able to cover it live, to which he said no.

While I left the court to do the update, I later heard that a reporter for the Press Association, John Aston, addressed the court, pointing out to the judge that the Julian Assange extradition hearings case had allowed live tweeting. I was told that this was news to Judge Pearl.

Lord Chief Justice Interim guidance
Back at the end of last year, Lord Judge, The Lord Chief Justice addressed this very subject through an Interim practice guidance, as reported in a number of places, including Journalism.co.uk on 20 December 2010:

The Interim practice guidance says

10. 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.

11. Subject to this consideration, 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 generally unlikely to interfere with the proper administration of justice.

At the end of point 13 he says, “The most obvious purpose of permitting the use of live, text-based communications would be to enable the media to produce fair and accurate reports of the proceedings.”

How can we alert judges?
We’re very aware that judges have a lot to keep on top of on a daily basis, so wonder if there’s a simple way for them to be made aware of the current thinking on live court coverage?

This article first appeared on Ventnor Blog here.

Meeja Law comment: As VB reports this issue came up during Julian Assange’s appeal for bail in December 2010. As Meeja Law reported at the time, it was not the first instance of live tweeting from court although it might have been the first time a newspaper was granted specific permission. Ben Kendall (@benjkendall) crime reporter for the Eastern Daily Press in Norfolk had tweeted from court before, albeit without additional permission from the judge, in August 2010.

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