Advances in new technology may help make it easier for the media to be “present” in court – and end the present trend of fewer reporters covering cases, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge has said.
Lord Judge said it was his “fervent hope” this would be the case as he delivered a lecture on The Judiciary and the Media at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in Monday night.
The world of print was now being overtaken by a new world of communications, he said.
“Imagine buying a newspaper, and as you read through it, discover that by using a piece of modern technology you can go and get much more newspaper online,’he said.
‘In today’s world, I am sure that this is a necessary ingredient for a successful newspaper.
“On the other hand, the need for care with the online information is no less acute than it is for the publication.
“Naturally enough, care is taken with the newspaper to avoid defamatory statements where they cannot be justified, but is the same care available to be exercised for the online information? It must be.”
New technology such as smartphones put the ready availability of the internet meant people were using it to access information and music, rather than buying books and CDs. This affected the issue of communications out of a court, Lord Judge said.
“It is now possible, as you know, for a contemporaneous report of what is being said to be put up on a television screen as the words are spoken, or more realistically, three or four seconds after they have been spoken,” he added.
“So we come to the problem of tweeting, which I use as a general name to cover all kinds of live text-based communications in the modern world.
“At present interim guidance on tweeting in court has been given, for the purposes of a consultation into the use of modern technology and its impact on the processes of the court.
“Obviously I must wait for the end of the consultation, but can anyone doubt that the issues of the impact of modern technology both as they apply to the judicial system and as they apply to the world of the media, and indeed as they impinge on the relationship of both the judiciary and the media, should be examined now rather than later.
“The speed of what is happening is quite remarkable. I have already emphasised that in my view an independent media will survive but we, and I mean both the judiciary and the media, may have to be re-thinking many of the ways in which we do our work.
“Whatever the result of the consultation, and whatever guidance is promulgated after its conclusion, I have no doubt that it will have to be re-visited, and re-visited again, because as fast as we keep up with the developments, the developments themselves will be expanding.
“Ultimately, of course, we must be doing justice in the courts, and we must be doing open justice.
“My fervent hope is that the advance of new technology will make it easier for the media to be ‘present’ in court, and that the present trend for fewer and fewer reporters in every court will come to an end, or at any rate, that court proceedings will be reported.”
Lord Judge said he had commented in the past on the potential impact of modern technology on the jury trial system.
“Putting it briefly, there is not only the problem of the jury accessing information through the internet, but there is also the ability, long term, of the present generation of youngsters, who use technology at school, and who learn much more from looking at their screens than from listening to their teachers, adapting to the current arrangements for jury service.”
There was also another element to technology that merited early thinking and long-term vigilance.
As the world of technology changed “we should be aware of, and I do not put it any higher than this, alert to the possible impact of communication systems which today we cannot even imagine, on court processes”, Lord Judge said.
“Of course we – judiciary and media – must use all the technology available to us to ensure speedy justice, ease of communication, and all the many advantages which may come our way.
“But we do also have to be alert to any possible infringement, even innocent and unintended, on the principle that justice must be done in a public forum, to which the public, or the media, has access.”
Change “cannot mean the end of public justice”, he added.