The sentencing of former MSP Tommy Sheridan last week for committing perjury has dominated much of the UK news. The sentencing hearing, however, was not only the culmination of one of the largest perjury trials in Scottish history, but it also saw an important development in live, text-based court reporting.
The judge in the sentencing at Glasgow High Court - Lord Bracadale - confirmed that, following an application by media outlet STV news, journalists would be allowed to communicate live updates during the proceedings. This meant that the public could follow the sentencing proceedings live by following updates on social media websites such as twitter. Prior to this the only reporting that could be done during court proceedings was by the court reporter (although it has been thought that journalists have surreptitiously been tweeting during court proceedings for some time now).
Although the decision by Lord Bracadale to allow live tweeting during proceedings was a first for Scottish courts, it is something that has been allowed previously in English courts. Last month, District Court Judge Howard Riddle allowed live tweeting to take place during the bail hearing of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. This was shortly followed by interim guidance (available by clicking here) issued by the head of the English Courts - Lord Judge - which stated that live, text-based communications (i.e. tweeting) would be allowed during proceedings, provided that "its use does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case".
Interfering with the administration of justice is an obvious danger that allowing live, text-based communications could pose. There is also the danger that proceedings are incorrectly reported. It is therefore likely that the decision whether to allow proceedings to be tweeted/communicated live will be taken by judges on a case-by-case basis. The outcome may therefore be that, in some cases, judges will consider that live tweeting should not take place during proceedings.
Interestingly, in the interim guidance, Lord Judge stated that a consultation on the use of live, text-based communications during court proceedings would be undertaken. This is therefore an issue which is not entirely settled. The outcome of this consultation, and the effect it has on the Scottish, as well as English and Welsh courts, is eagerly awaited.