Tweeting in court: top judge asks public's views

After a judge ruled that hacks could tweet from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's bail hearing, British courts are to seek a definitive answer on whether journalists and others should be allowed to send text messages or posts to social media sites such as Twitter from the courtroom.

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales - the aptly named Lord Judge - today published a consultation paper (PDF) on the use of "live, text-based communications from court".

Debate over whether members of the public should be able to tweet from court was sparked when District Judge Howard Riddle gave journalists explicit permission during Assange's bail hearing on 14th December.

At the time, many believed it was the first ever use of live text-based communication from a British courtroom. In fact, journos had been knocking out sneaky tweets from the visitors' gallery for some time, but it's certainly the first time the practice has been explicitly sanctioned by a judge.

The use of mobile phones is strictly prohibited in UK courtrooms, where photography is not permitted and even court artists are obliged to draw proceedings from memory. Offenders face fines of up to £2,500 or up to three months in jail.

Judge Riddle's advice in the Assange hearing led to the Lord Chief Justice issuing interim guidelines on the matter on 20th December, permitting the use of "internet-enabled laptops to make text‐based communications, smart phones used for mobile email and other internet services and similar devices". You can find the guidelines here (PDF).

Lord Judge is now asking for feedback from interested parties on the guidelines. The consultation period lasts until Wednesday 4th May, after which a summary of responses may be published. Details of how to respond are attached to the consultation document.