♫ You’re no one if you’re not on Twitter…♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by Ben Walker.
Kendyl Sebesta reported on Oct 31, 2011 in The Law Times that Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger has banned the use of Twitter and such tools inside his court in a high profile murder case.
His ruling permitted the use of electronic devices inside the courtroom, but only for the purposes of the taking of notes.
“Electronic devices that have the capability to transmit or receive wireless signals may not be set to ‘silent’ or ‘airport mode’ settings, but must be completely powered off,” Maranger wrote.
What is interesting about this decision is that it applied to journalists and everyone alike.
The matter surfaced earlier this month after CBC Radio-Canada filed a motion with the Superior Court requesting access to an affidavit and submission of counsel in the murder trial of Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son Hamed.
Contrast this, of course, to the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange bail hearing in the UK. The district Magistrate, Howard Riddle, ruled that reporters could send short 'twitter' messages so long as they did so quietly and did not disturb the court.
Central to the decision by Justice Robert Maranger was the effect of such devices on the court's proceedings and recording equipment.
Toronto Media Lawyer Brian Rogers is quoted as saying:
“I think the use of social media, and particularly Twitter feeds, are just a variation on the theme of people being worried about what the impacts could be,” says Rogers.
“I think those impacts can be beneficial but that you have to minimize any risks that come with it, not just simply block its use."
To be fair, the Superior Court's Technology Committee is looking into matters such as digital audio recording in courtrooms. Also, according to s. 136 of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act, journalists can’t use electronic devices to record or videotape information inside the court but they can take handwritten notes.
Even if the Court's Technology Committee allows the use of Twitter inside courtrooms, will they allow it only for journalists or for everyone? Today we have bloggers who may not be captive or freelance journalists, but who nevertheless fulfil an important function in disseminating the result of (public) courtroom proceedings. While there has been a historical distinction between journalists and the public in terms of courtroom reporting, that distinction today seems to stand on (increasingly) rocky ground. What is clear is the challenge that new technologies do, and will, pose to the conduct and protocol of court proceedings in Canada.