Live social media updates are set to be banned in the Irish courts for all except journalists and lawyers involved in the case.
Ireland’s Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, made the announcement as he spoke about the difficulties that some use of social media is having on court cases.
He made his remarks as he addressed a seminar of journalists in Dublin on Saturday.
Emphasising the right to a fair trial, the Chief Justice described social media as “all pervasive in society”, and while recognising the courts “do not operate in isolation” from the world of communications, he said guidelines are needed.
He announced a new practice direction limiting the use of live text and message based communications from court – to bona fide members of the media and lawyers in a case.
“It is clear that there needs to be guidelines regarding the ‘who, when and what’ of using social media in courtrooms,” he said.
“From this month on a new Practice Direction – signed by the Presidents of all the Court jurisdictions – will limit the use of court based data messaging and electronic devices, to bona fide members of the press and bona fide lawyers with business in the courts.
“Both sets of professionals know the limits of what they can report and when.
“Others in court will be unable to text or message from the courtroom – in any form.”
He added, that “if the experience of the operation of this practice direction provides evidence that it needs to be reinforced by new legislation, we will ask for this to be considered”.
The Chief Justice said that the key legitimate concern is to “ensure the integrity of the trial process and the maintenance of a fair trial system”.
“The potential for unregulated social media to have an impact on the fairness of the trial process itself is, in my view, a legitimate and particular concern of the Judiciary,” he said.
“To date it has been rare that courts in Ireland have had to use contempt of court laws to curb inaccurate and disruptive online communications about cases.
“But it would be extremely naive of us not to plan for the future in this regard.
“In recent times it has become apparent that there is a need for guidance and rules on use of social media and digital devices in courts.
“This extends to the use of social media by observers of a case, and to a lesser extent the use of same by jurors.”
The Chief Justice paid tribute to the print and broadcast media as having given “very little cause of concern” in how they report and comment on court cases.
“In general they do so honestly, diligently and with great skill,” he said.
But he said some concerns over social media are “both widespread and real”.
“There are genuine concerns over the dissemination of false and malicious claims – which damage social debate, learning, and understanding,” he said.
“Such false claims can come just as much from the organised and powerful as they can from the single contrarian in a basement, or a ‘hobby journalist’ in a court room.”