Court Says NO to Live Tweets

♫ You’re no one if you’re not on Twitter…♫

Lyrics, music and recorded by Ben Walker.

No Twitter

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.

 

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Comments

  1. Since currently, there is no statutory regulation specifically covering social media web sites and Twitter feeds, under s. 136 of the Ontario Court of Justice Act, the court must exercise the inherent jurisdiction or power to control the means of recording court proceedings.

    My view of the historic principle that justice is to be administered in Open Court means allowing both the Press and Public reporters to attend proceedings as representatives of the public.

    I hope the Court’s Technology Committee will thoroughly address when the exceptions to Open Court must be applied.
    I believe the court must regulate its own practices and proceedings with specific reference to the means used to record court proceedings as a necessity that justice demands and not one based of judicial discretion.

  2. We had a great session on the use of Twitter by journalists in court (I think at CALL Windsor). My concern is with the accuracy of the reportage. I think that, in order to get some semblance of accuracy, a little time needs to be taken to check the facts. That’s not as likely to happen with a tweet.

  3. Is it the court’s job to prohibit speedy technology on the ground that slower technology might turn out to be more accurate?

    On the other hand, just because we can, must we?

  4. I think that getting an accurate recounting is important. Especially in the kind of cases that are likely to get the attention of the public in the first place. Imagine the damage that could be done to a person’s reputation if a tweet misunderstands something that is clarified later, misspells a name or some other important detail. It’s so true, “you get it fast or you get it right”. I think that perhaps the courts could nudge journalists toward getting it right.

  5. What is at stake requires that the court must balance what justice demands: that the accused receive a fair trial, that witnesses are not deterred from testifying, and that the judge, jury and lawyers are not distracted during the proceedings, against what the public interest in justice and our democracy requires….open access to justice and the liberty and freedom to communicate what we see, hear and feel. Is it possible that tweets in the courtroom might recount more, rather than less, accurate facts about the proceedings?

  6. Greetings:

    It is interesting that in the #OccupyVancouver movement, the Supreme Court of British Columbia is not allowing cell phones into the court room hearing the injunction application by the City of Vancouver.

    This is a situation where tweeting is taking place everywhere except, it seems, from within the court room.

    Considering John G’s comment…just because we can….should we? And to follow his other thought that slower technologies may be more accurate, …the twitterati are just walking out of the court…and then tweeting. Are inaccuracies being introduced by possibly missing out on bits when they walk out? Or possibly creating a wrong impression?

  7. Maybe courtrooms in the future will have scheduled twitter/washroom breaks so that public representatives who need to express themselves can without missing the proceedings. The aim of this approach is to solve two problems: maintain open access while providing the opportunity for improving accuracy.