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Journos can tweet from UK courts: But who's a journo?

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Journalists will be able to tweet freely from courts says new guidance from the UK Judiciary, but members of the public will still have to ask the judge's permission to be able to use Twitter in a court-room.

Before yesterday, journalists had to be licensed before tweeting the proceedings of a trial. Now they can "Twitter as much [they] wish" as the Lord Chief Justice announced yesterday.

Tweeting is only allowed from court cases that are public, and are under no reporting restrictions - ruling out some Family and Criminal cases for example. Photography is still strictly banned. In what may be fiddly to enforce the guidance states that: "Any equipment which has photographic capability must not have that function activated". Sound recordings are also prohibited.

Those not tweeting or using their phone for "live text-based communication" have to turn their phone off. Texting, personal emails and phone calls are still strictly prohibited. And if too many people are tweeting and it's interfering with the court's own equipment, the judge may limit the number of devices allowed in court.

A member of the public can get permission to tweet by asking court staff to pass on their request the judge. The judge will make the decision based on whether the application may interfere with the proper administration of justice, the guidance states.

What is a journalist?

The guidance document offers no information on what the courts consider to be the distinguishing features of a journalist. Does the work experience kid on the local newspaper count? Student journos? Local bloggers? We have asked for some official clarification.

In the meantime, The Register understands that the new guidance is intended to increase the reporting of court cases in accordance with the principle of open justice. We understand that who is reading the tweet-reports would be relevant. If in doubt, the would-be tweeter should make a request to the judge.

Laws on contempt of court will be applied to the tweets as they would be to articles published about the proceedings regardless of whether the tweeter is a journalist or member or the public.

The use of social media in law courts is a hot area. A juror was recently jailed for 8 months for Facebooking an acquitted defendant in a case in June - and a furore over Twitter users breaking privacy super-injunctions drove the Attorney General to threaten tweeters with lawsuits. ®

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