Twitter gets favorable verdict in court

It’s been a mixed picture recently for leading tech services in courtrooms. British courts have been told they should allow reporters to post messages to Twitter during a case in most circumstances. But an American case was declared a mistrial after a juror used Wikipedia to look up a phrase mentioned in evidence.

The Lord Chief Justice, Britain’s senior judge (who, appropriately enough, is named Igor Judge) said today that reporters should be allowed to use “a mobile phone, small laptop or similar piece of equipment, solely in order to make live text-based communications of the proceedings.”

That’s a bigger breakthrough than it might appear: British court rules are very strict in banning any form of recording technology and the only way the public can see imagery from cases they don’t attend in person is through courtroom artists. Even then, the artists are not allowed to sketch inside the courtroom and must produce their pictures outside via memory and notes.

The new policy follows confusion after two hearings involving Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In one hearing a judge allowed Twitter updates, but in another said it was banned.

Lord Judge said that reporters must ask the case judge for permission first, and that this should be refused if there was a risk that it could influence jury members or witnesses.
Across the Atlantic, tech isn’t getting such a warm welcome. A rape case ended in a mistrial after it was revealed a jury member had looked up the phrase “rape trauma syndrome” on Wikipedia at home, printed it out, and brought it into the jury room.

The ruling was not specifically related to Wikipedia being the source of information. Rather the juror had violated court policy (reiterated by the judge) of jurors not researching anything to do with the trial or alleged offenses, but instead reaching a verdict solely on the evidence and arguments presented in court.

It’s not the first time a jury member’s internet use has led to legal problems. One bright spark in Detroit was discharged earlier this year when, midway through the prosecution case she posted a status update on Facebook reading ” Gonna be fun to tell the defendant they’re guilty.”

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