Wednesday 15 December 2010

Assange case shows tweeting court has hazards

I am all for the opening up of courts to Twitter, as happened in Julian Assange's bail hearing yesterday.

Times special correspondent Alexi Mostrous was given permission by senior district judge Howard Riddle to use Twitter as long as "it's quite and doesn't disturb anything."

That seems quite sensible, especially considering the huge number of people outside Westminster Magistrates' Court who couldn't get into the hearing.

But instant communication has its hazards. At one point yesterday it was being reported on Twitter, live blogs and rolling news channels that the Swedish authorities were not going to appeal the decision to grant Assange bail, raising the likelihood that he was about to be released. This was not accurate, an appeal was made and Assange remained in custody.

Reporting court can be a complex business. A wrong tweet by a journalist about evidence or a legal application when a jury is not in court could potentially stop a trial, leaving the news organisation with a massive bill for the costs of the case.

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