To tweet in court, or not to tweet in court, that is the question. The Law Technology News (Associated Press 10/30/2012) reports that the judiciary continues to grapple with emerging technologies. There is no uniform policy within or between provinces in Canada regarding whether or not social media can be used in an open court hearing.
In Ontario alone, the social media issue has been treated in a variety of ways in a series of high profile cases: the (former mayor) Larry O’Brien trial in Ottawa (tweeting permitted), the Michael Rafferty trial in London (tweeting permitted only in overflow room), and the Shafia trial in Kingston (no tweeting at all).
Some provinces have social media policies that enable so called “accredited journalists” to tweet (B.C. and Saskatchewan); others permit social media in Appeal Courts but not the lower courts absent the judge’s permission (Nova Scotia). Most provinces lack a policy at all and simply deal with the issue on a case by case basis (i.e. Ontario).
In an effort to bring some consistency to this issue, the Canadian Centre for Court Technology (“CCCT”) has developed proposed social media guidelines. The CCCT, made up of judges, lawyers and other members of the justice system, supports the proposition that anyone attending an open court hearing should be permitted to utilize electronic devices. The only restrictions would be that the devices must be set to silent or vibrate modes, and any publication bans must be respected.
The open court principle, and the practicalities of life (the disruption of people running in and out of the courtroom to use social media) overruled the risks of more minor disruptions, violations of publication bans and witness security.
We’ll continue to watch this issue with interest.