Tweeting from court: 'It's multi-skilling gone mad'

Journalists have described their unease over tweeting from court – with one reporter telling Press Gazette: 'My heart sank when they gave us the green light to tweet from court."

The January trial of Spurs manager Harry Redknapp had to be suspended and a new juror sworn in after a Guardian reporter tweeted both the name of a juror and legal argument that took place in the absence of a jury.

It came only weeks after the Lord Chief Justice told journalists they could tweet from court without obtaining consent from the judge – but both the legal system, and the media, are struggling to keep pace with the opportunities and problems that Twitter presents.

Chris Johnson, editor of Mercury Press agency in the North West, told Press Gazette that tweeting from court was 'fraught with dangers".

'Speed is one thing, but accuracy and balance are essential in order to retain privilege and journalists using Twitter need to be aware of the pitfalls,'he said.

'There are also dangers that a tweet could prejudice a court case – the obvious examples would be mentioning a defendant's antecedents, or tweeting something said in the absence of the jury. The day will come when a tweet will result in re-trial or even in a case being abandoned.'

'It's multi-skilling gone mad'

Another experienced court reporter, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the situation will 'end in tears." He said: "My heart sank when they gave us the green light to tweet from court.

'It's almost impossible to report the case in the usual way, and tweet at the same time. You have to take careful shorthand notes and simultaneously condense them into a series of 140 character statements. It's multi-skilling gone mad.

'While you're fiddling around with your 140 characters, you may miss a key bit of evidence, or might not have the time to take a good shorthand note of something. It's going to end in tears."

Court reporters also face added pressure of competition from members of the public, who are allowed to report court cases – though they have to get permission from the court first.

An unnamed source said: 'It's easier for them. All they do is tweet, and we can't keep up with them, because we have to take proper notes at the same time. If they get it wrong, it probably won't matter. But if we get it wrong, it could be serious.'"

To read more on Twitter and the courts see the March edition of Press Gazette magazine.



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