Earlier this month, I reported that the Senior Presiding Judge and the Senior President of Tribunals has issued new guidance [PDF] to all courts and tribunal judicial office holders in England and Wales. While it does not entirely prohibit blogging and social media use, it advises that “…judicial office holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary“.
I noticed that Ben Liddicott had submitted a Freedom of Information request via WhatDoTheyKnow.com. He asked for a  copy of the guidance and:
-  “any and all currently effective guidance issued on the subject of speech making, writing of articles for newspapers, and other public education or outreach efforts, including blogging, by any members of the judiciary including magistrates”.
-  “minutes or notes of any internal or interdepartmental or other meeting or discussion with any other person (including email exchanges) where the same were discussed, in particular where any difference between the two sets of guidance (or absence of guidance) is discussed or justified, where the proportionality of such guidance is discussed or where the legality of the guidance or the compliance of guidance with principles of openness, human rights, international law, or with the reasonable expectations of the general public were concerned“.
The Judicial Office (an Associated Office of the MoJ, which comes within the MoJ’s remit for handling requests under FoIA) has now responded. It finds that “third paragraph of [the] request would exceed the cost limits under the legislation“.
“In this instance to identify and locate copies of minutes, notes or e-mails etc., detailing the various meetings and discussions relating to the guidance documents you have requested, we would need to manually check a significant number of paper files, and electronic records, dating back many years, and held in a variety of geographical locations. Cumulatively, in my view this work would significantly exceed the 3½ working days’ work / £600 cost limit provided for under FOIA.”
However, it has supplied the guidance [now also published on the Judiciary website] and:
- Memoranda on conditions of service and terms of service are issued to all fee-paid and salaried judicial office holders, and whilst they differ slightly depending on the type of judge, all contain standard guidance on issues relating to conduct and outside interests. By way of example, I attach an electronic copy of the Memorandum on conditions of appointment and terms of service for Circuit Judges. Paragraphs 62-76 deal with issues relating to outside interests and activities, but of particular interest to you will be paragraph 62 (General Principles), paragraphs 71-72 (lecturing, participation in conferences etc) and paragraphs 73-74 (Writing books and articles).
- An electronic copy of the Declaration and Undertaking signed by magistrates on appointment. In Section 1 you will note that a magistrate is required to undertake to be circumspect in his/her conduct and maintain the dignity, standing and good reputation of the magistracy at all times in his /her private, working and public life.
- An electronic copy of the Guide to Judicial Conduct. You will see at paragraph 3.1, dealing with impartiality, that “A judge should strive to ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants, in the impartiality of the judge and of the judiciary. You will also note at 3.4 that judicial office holders are warned against the expression of views out of court that would give rise to issues of perceived bias or prejudgment in cases that might later come before them. Also of interest will be paragraph 3.10, section 4 (Integrity) and Section 5 (Propriety).
- An electronic copy of Media Guidance for the Judiciary. Although this is aimed primarily at judicial office holders who are approached to appear on television and radio programmes or to give interviews to the press, you may find the guidance useful as it also touches upon the issue of speeches, and letters to newspapers etc.