Tweets from the Courtroom?


Written on March 13, 2013 – 8:59 am | by Angela Casey

I have a longstanding ritual as I prepare to make submissions in court.  I get out my felt-tipped pen (never, never, ball point), a back-up pen in case of a mid-hearing ink emergency, set out my tabbed Rules of Civil Procedure on the counsel table, place my highlighted submissions in front of me, and spread out the court materials into organized piles.  Five minutes before 10:00 am (when court begins), I will check my blackberry for any last minute messages.  Finally, just as court is about to begin, I turn off my Blackberry.

As of February 1, 2013, a bulletin from the Superior Court of Justice confirms that it is no longer necessary to turn off smartphones before court (although they must be set to silent or vibrate).  According to the new Protocol on the Use of Electronic Devices in the Courtroom, counsel, licensed paralegals, self-represented litigants, law students, law clerks, and media or journalists are now permitted to use electronic devices, including smartphones, in the courtroom.  Members of the general public are still not permitted to use electronic devices in the courtroom without permission of the presiding judge.

Some commentary suggests that this development will make it easier for journalists to broadcast live blogs or “tweets” during the course of a trial or hearing.  This, I suppose, could be said to contribute to the openness of our judicial system.

There are restrictions, of course.  The electronic device cannot interfere with courtroom decorum or the “proper administration of justice”, and you must adhere to any publication bans.   It must not interfere with court recording equipment.   You cannot take pictures.   You can audiotape the proceeding for your own note taking purposes, but you cannot transmit your recording from your electronic device.  And mercifully, the protocol does not allow users to talk on their smartphones during open court. 

Am I excited by this new development?  Let me first make a confession.  I have a love-hate relationship with smartphones.  A true story – someone’s cell phone actually went off during the vow portion of my wedding ceremony (I joked that someone was calling in an objection).   But my trusty Blackberry has been useful too:  I once got instructions to settle a case by e-mail on my Blackberry at exactly 9:59 am, just as the “all rise” command was bellowing through the courtroom.

But do I have any desire to text, e-mail, blog or surf the internet during court?  No.  It offends my sense of courtroom manners – to me, it’s the courtroom equivalent of chewing with one’s mouth open. I love all of the formalities that are observed in the courtroom that are designed to show respect – donning the gown, complete with the little pressed white tabs, rising as the judge enters the courtroom, referring to opposing counsel as “my friend”.   I once observed a judge scold someone for reading a newspaper in the courtroom and I mentally applauded the tongue lashing.  To me, texting, posting, surfing, tweeting, blogging, in open court is incompatible with my notion of respectful courtroom behaviour.  What on earth could be more interesting than observing (without distraction) the inner workings of a courtroom?

It seems that we will now see “tweets” from the courtroom before a modernized system for electronically filing court documents or courtroom booking.   Don’t get me started.

 Thanks for listening,

Angela

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