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December 19, 2011

Guest blog: How to Tweet safely from court

By Cleland Thom

Here’s some practical tips on Tweeting from court, following the Lord Chief Justice’s announcement last week.

1. A journalist or a legal commentator CAN Tweet from a public court case without asking the judge first. If you’re not sure if you’re a journalist or a legal commentator, then you’re probably not one! Best to check with the court – see point 5, below.
2. Live blogging etc by journalists or legal commentators is also acceptable – they can use other  media than Twitter.
3. Mobile devices must be set to silent.
4. Tweeting should be silent, unobstrusive and carried out with hand-held devices – not laptops or notebooks.
5. Members of the public, citizen journalists, student journalists and bloggers can only Tweet if they have permission from the court in advance. SO:
* Editors should not allow work experience trainees etc to Tweet from court cases.
* Student journalists, citizen journalists and bloggers cannot Tweet live from court cases without advance consent.
6. Audio recordings of court proceedings are not allowed.
7. Photographs taken in the court, or its precincts, are not allowed
8. A judge can order the media to stop Tweeting at any time. The media does not have an automatic right to challenge this.
9. Tweets should follow the Contempt of Court Act s4 – they should be:
* A fair report of the trial, when taken together.
* Accurate – ie, close to the way the jury heard it.
* Published contemporaneously.
* Published in good faith. This means excluding material that could create a substantial risk of serious prejudice – either to the trial in hand, or another one. Don’t Tweet:
* Anything said in the jury’s absence.
* Information that could allow a witness to change their evidence.
* Links to pre-trial stories about the case.
* Details of mixed pleas – where a defendant admits some offences and denies others.
* Details of any future cases involving a defendant.

10. Do not Tweet anything that could reveal the ID of someone who has anonymity. Remember that the latest Tweet could provide ID information when read with an earlier one.
11. The above applies to public hearings in civil courts and family courts. Although these hearings do not have juries, live Tweeting could cause witnesses worry, distraction and pressure.
12. The new guidance does not mention inquests. Take advice before Tweeting from an inquest.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law.

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