Lord Judge 2

Lord Judge handed down the guidance which means journalists no longer need permission to use text-based devices

Credit: John Stillwell/PA

Journalists no longer have to seek permission from a judge to report live from court using text-based devices, according to new guidance issued by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.

The latest guidance governs the use of laptops and hand-held devices in court for text communications, such as by email or on social media platforms like Twitter, in a follow-up to interim guidance issued in December last year.

The new rules only apply in England and Wales and not Scotland, where a ban on using Twitter in court continues and reporters must apply for special permission to use phones or tablets.

Prior to this, as highlighted in today's guidance, "the normal, indeed almost invariable, rule has been that mobile phones must be turned off in court"; however, there was never a "statutory prohibition on the use of live text-based communications in open court", prompting a need for clarification.

In his interim guidance Lord Judge gave his approval to journalists using a mobile phone or other small electronic device to live-report proceedings, but only if a formal or informal application to the court had been made.

Since then a consultation on the issue has been held, involving figures such as the secretary of state for justice and the attorney general, as well as organisations such as the Press Complaints Commission and Society of Editors.

Lord Judge said today under the new guidelines "representatives of the media/legal commentators" will no longer have to make an application to report live from court on text-based devices, although members of the public should still do so. In the latter case this can be an informal application, such as simply "by communicating a request to the judge through court staff".

In all cases the guidance states the "use of devices should not cause a disturbance or distraction" and  "the judge always retains full discretion to prohibit live, text based communications from court, in the interests of justice".

It is also stressed that "anyone using electronic text is strictly bound by the existing restrictions on reporting court proceedings, under the Contempt of Court Act 1981".

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