Thursday, November 22, 2018

The new Irish ban on social media posts from court

I have an opinion piece in the Irish Independent on the new practice direction restricting social media posts from the courtroom. Here's an excerpt:
In 2011, the English courts introduced rules preventing anyone other than journalists or lawyers from posting to social media in the courtroom; the new Irish rules are largely identical, and seem to have been prompted now by judicial concern at both the Jobstown trial and the Belfast rugby rape trial. The #JobstownNotGuilty and #IBelieveHer hashtags show a growing popular willingness to second-guess the judicial process and this ban can be seen as a direct response.

There are certainly good reasons for banning live tweeting in some cases, particularly in criminal trials where much takes place in the absence of the jury.

However, the speech by the Chief Justice did not make the case for the blanket ban which was introduced. All the examples of abuse he gave related to criminal trials - there is no obvious reason why civil trials, which normally do not have a jury, should be treated in the same way. This is equally true of appeal courts, which hear legal argument rather than evidence, and in the UK the Supreme Court allows any person attending a hearing to live tweet except in special circumstances.

The restriction to "bona fide members of the news media profession" is also problematic. In his speech, the Chief Justice equated "hobby journalists" with "the single contrarian in a basement".

However this disregards a number of Irish and European judgments stressing the high constitutional value of citizen journalism; restricting live coverage to those who can produce traditional media credentials has the merit of administrative convenience but will limit many who could provide useful and informed coverage of proceedings.
Full text of the article.