Screenshot of Ron Sylvester's Twitter account
A reporter working on a US newspaper has used Twitter to micro-blogging a capital murder trial. But could that ever work under the English legal system?

The Wichita Eagle and its companion website have covered the trial of Ted Burnett by filing real-time updates from the court directly to the web.

Ron Sylvester, an interactive reporter at the title, set up a Twitter account to file 140 character posts on the trial. His updates have also been published on as part of a section dedicated to coverage of the trial.

Sylvester has since been able to file a continuous stream of short posts while still in the court.

The short-form coverage allowed users to follow the case at their leisure, Sylvester told, as he blogged highlights of jury selection, evidence and the verdict.

A reporter covering a case by Twitter in the UK would have to leave the courtroom to post updates as, while Sylvester uses a mobile and a flexible USB keyboard to file updates from within the courtroom, mobile phone and computer equipment are currently disallowed in UK courts. asked a leading media lawyer whether using Twitter to cover a court case in England and Wales would present any legal pitfalls.

Caroline Kean, partner with media law firm Wiggin LLP, told us that Twitter could be used safely under the UK's current contempt laws.

As long as reporters focus on reporting the trial through Twitter and adhere to any reporting restrictions, Kean said, the service could be used without being in contempt of court.

"The danger of confining a report to 140 characters is that by editing to such a short report, it will not properly be 'fair and accurate' - it might not present the full defence, for example, or explain that what a witness said in chief fell apart in cross examination," she said.

"Of course, the reporter could send a continuous stream of short reports so it was effectively verbatim, but that would be very onerous. Having said that - that seems to be what Sylvester, who is clearly an experienced court reporter - is doing."

Any potential libel claims against the Twitter updates could be avoided through 'fair and balanced' reporting across a series of tweets, added Kean.

Published claims that are later contested or is dismissed could be placed in context if the reporter covers the subsequent dismissal in another update, she said.

To prevent tweets on a trial from being taking out of context and potentially prejudicing the case publishers should make it clear that updates are part of a stream, she added.

The Eagle has done this by clearly stating on the site: "Ron Sylvester is sending continual - but ultra-brief - updates from the Burnett trial via Twitter, and those updates are being fed into our Burnett Trial Updates page."

Sylvester has filed over 1,184 updates on the case so far.

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