Now to the comparatively marginal matter of reporting courts on Twitter. As my Twitter followers will know, on the first day of the committal hearing in the case against Simon Artz, after Crikey‘s lunchtime deadline, I continued to report events in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via Twitter.
I have done this before, in the Federal Court. Twitter court reporting is fairly common overseas, and there are several incidences in Australia as well.
During the course of yesterday I became aware that The Australian‘s Melbourne bureau chief, Chip Le Grand, was applying to the court for an audio recording of the first day’s hearing.
Later, I heard that in the letter seeking access, The Australian had mentioned my tweeting.
I approached the clerk of court and said that it had been me tweeting, and if His Honour wished to speak to me about it, I was available. The clerk responded that His Honour had not known about the Twitter feed before receiving the letter seeking access to the audio file, and had made it known that he considered tweeting from the court “inappropriate”.
Crikey‘s legal advice on this is that it is essentially at the discretion of the magistrate. There are no rules on it governing Magistrates Courts, though there are these guidelines concerning the Supreme Court.
Under these guidelines, it would apparently be OK to email court reports to multiple recipients, but not to tweet the same material. Tweet reporting has been done from the County Court, and the Federal Court.
This was the background to this page-three story in The Australian today. I dispute the penultimate paragraphs. My tweet reporting was a fair and accurate summary and paraphrase of what occurred in court, which is all journalistic court reports ever are, whatever the medium.
First thing this morning in court, His Honour Peter Mealey raised the matter, said he had been informed that “there is something called Twitter” and said that any tweeting from his court would be regarded as contempt.
He clarified that the reason for the restriction was that in this sensitive case, concerning matters of national security, live reporting could make any necessary suppression orders pointless.
Nicholas Papas, for the prosecution, told Mr Mealey that while he agreed tweeting might become problematic in this case, it had occurred in other courts and in the normal course there was no reason for banning it, any more than other methods of court reporting.
Crikey understands and respects the concerns of the court.