(CN) – Twitter and other social media can be used – with some restriction – in U.K. courtrooms, after the head of the British judiciary issued a directive prescribing online-courtroom conduct.
The lord chief justice of England and Wales, whose name is Igor Judge, allowed the communications – which include mobile e-mail, social media and Internet-enabled laptops – in light of public interest in reporting legal proceedings against controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Last week, journalists were allowed to “tweet” – or post updates on the live-blogging, social media site Twitter – at the first bail hearing of Assange, who is accused of sexual misconduct. But a higher judge at another Assange hearing two days later banned tweeting from the courtroom.
Judge issued the guidelines to clarify and harmonize the court’s policy on live text-based communications in British courts. While the interim rules give some leeway to new communications media, British courts still bar on the use of photo- and sound-recording equipment.
Highlighting benefits to open justice and free media, Judge wrote that “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.”
His guidelines emphasized case-by-case application of the rules to avoid possible pressuring of witnesses, particularly in criminal cases. The justice added that judges may grant journalists the privilege of such communications in court, while disallowing it to the wider public.
The interim guidelines will eventually be replaced by more permanent rules on text-based communications in British courts.
Australian-born Assange founded the WikiLeaks site with an aim “to reveal unethical behavior” in governments and other organizations. Pressure has mounted on Assange this month after a slew of classified U.S. government documents, ranging from the Iraq war to internal diplomatic communications, were leaked to his site.
Assange, 39, was released on $310,000 bail after his third London court appearance over alleged sex offenses. An extradition hearing is expected in begin in February.
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