Twitter green light for courts in England and Wales

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Twitter can be used in courtrooms in England and Wales, the top judge said in a landmark decision Monday, following debate over the issue at previous hearings involving WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge said decisions on the use of the micro-blogging website would be taken on a case-by-case basis depending on the on the risk of interference to the "proper administration of justice".

The greatest risk would come in criminal trials where witnesses outside the courtroom could find out what is being said in court before being called to give evidence, he warned.

Judge also said the use of Twitter in courts could also be limited to journalists to prevent large numbers of mobile phones interfering with the court's sound recording equipment and to prevent other distractions.

"The judge has an overriding responsibility to ensure that proceedings are conducted consistently with the proper administration of justice, and so as to avoid any improper interference with its processes," he said.

"There is no statutory prohibition on the use of live text-based communications in open court.

"But before such use is permitted, the court must be satisfied that its use does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case."

He said providing the device used for Twitter communication was "unobtrusive, hand-held, (and) virtually silent" it would not hinder the workings of the court.

The interim ruling comes after journalists covering the extradition hearings of Assange this month asked to be allowed to tweet news of proceedings.

The Australian WikiLeaks boss is wanted in Sweden over allegations of sexual crimes.

Journalists covering courts in England and Wales have until now been bound by strict rules banning any use of mobile phones or recording devices within courtrooms during court hearings and trials.

Court proceedings are not televised and no photographs may be published.

The interim guidance comes ahead of a consultation on the issue.

© 2010 AFP

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