Judge to issue guidance on court Tweets

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The Independent Online

The country's top judge will issue interim guidance on the use of micro-blogging site Twitter in courts after supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were banned from posting updates today.

Just hours after Mr Justice Ouseley ruled supporters and journalists should not send Tweets to give a blow-by-blow account of proceedings, the judicial communications office said the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge will issue new guidance for all courts on Monday.

It came after District Judge Howard Riddle allowed Tweeting from City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, which some commentators proclaimed as a legal first.

He said journalists could send messages as long as they were discreet and did not interfere with the judicial process.

But it remains unclear whether using the service falls foul of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which governs behaviour in English courthouses.

A spokeswoman for the judicial communications office said Lord Judge "will issue interim guidance on the use of Twitter and electronic devices for the purpose of reporting court proceedings pending the conclusion of a consultation process".

Questions have been raised in the United States where some jury members have released details of their experience through the website.

Twitter has been a key source of information as controversy raged around the release of up to 250,000 leaked and highly sensitive diplomatic cables.

WikiLeaks has used Twitter to communicate its actions, including when it came under repeated denial of service attacks aimed at blocking the site.

Lord Judge has previously questioned whether Tweeting from courts should be banned.

Speaking last month, he said it was all too easy for campaigners to bombard Twitter with messages in a bid to influence the outcome of a hearing.

"We have to remember that Tweets stay on the internet and to allow court-based Tweeting is likely to increase the potential for prejudicial material regarding a defendant or a witness to become available on the internet," he said.

"We welcome advances in technology, provided that we are its masters and it is our tool and servant."

Lord Judge questioned whether the text-based transmission of material from a courtroom should be banned, saying he could find no statutory prohibition on its use, but tape recordings were banned under the Contempt of Court Act.

"Why is Twitter in the form of text-based transmission of material from court any different?" he asked.

"This question has yet to be decided, and the decision may have a considerable impact on our processes."