Tommy Sheridan has been jailed for three years following his conviction in December of committing perjury during his News of the World defamation action. In sentencing Sheridan, Lord Bracadale said “By pursuing a defamation action against the News of the World, you brought the walls of the temple crashing down”. For further details on the conviction itself, see our ScotsLawBlog article and commentary.
Further, perhaps overshadowing the sentence itself, Wednesday 26 January 2011 saw the first ever tweets being broadcast live from within a courtroom in Scotland.
Thanks to STV
Thanks to STV News, who made a formal written application to trial judge Lord Bracadale, permission was granted for the use of social networking site twitter to provide instant updates from the Tommy Sheridan sentencing hearing.
However, this is perhaps not all that suprising given the Lord Chief Justice’s recent interim guidance for the courts of England and Wales allowing journalists to tweet from court under certain guidelines. The first instance of tweeting there was during the bail hearing of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Nevertheless, STV is to be applauded for its initiative in submitting the formal application to the Scottish court.
Examples of tweets from inside court
As Hector MacQueen, editor of ScotsLawNews, noted, the main tweeters from inside the court were, as expected:-
With over 11,000 followers, @STVNews shows a clear appreciation for the value of Twitter in its business. Although not even close to the exposure of some news brands outwith Scotland, such as @BBCBreaking or @CNNbrk, it is certainly dominating the likes of The Herald, which has taken rather a long time to get to grips with twitter, including integration with its website. The Herald’s @heraldscotland account has yet to tweet, which shows perhaps a rather undecided stance or, perhaps, one which illustrates a certain amount of apathy for social media. In any event, it is great to see @herald_live and the others listed above taking advantage of Lord Bracadale’s kind permission to use twitter to report the Sheridan trial in real time.
STV News Tweets
On the STV website, there was also a live Twitter feed of selected journalists, including some from outwith STV News such as the Herald and the BBC:-
Herald Scotland Live
Example of the individual tweets of BBC’s Raymond Buchanan as follows:-
Tweeting from court, when within the permitted guidelines, is to be welcomed as justice and the rule of law are transformed into a truly real time experience. However, social media use from courts is not without its flaws:-
1. First, there is a great deal of “noise” generated from many twitter feeds reporting on the same matter. As Heather Collins pointed out, all the tweeting is perhaps all “a bit mad”:-
It may therefore be difficult to keep track of what is happening unless you know where to look or indeed choose to look. However, that is an unavoidable reality of journalism generally and the best brand is still likely to dominate;
2. Second, the tweeting itself perhaps overshadowed the extremely significant fact that Tommy Sheridan has been sentenced to three years in prison for committing perjury. Arguably, however, this is merely a product of the novelty of the concept of tweeting from court and, as more and more court cases are covered from court, the message will become clearer;
3. Third, twitter is still written communication albeit instantaneous. This lends itself to the quality of the writing not being quite as expert. For instance, the trial took a toll on Sheridan’s “piece of mind” rather than “peace of mind” at one point:-
Nevertheless, the benefits of tweeting from court far outweigh the risks. As Tommy Sheridan goes to jail for three years, apart from Sheridan writing a best seller, it is to be wondered if tweeting from prison will be the next thing on the judicial or social media agenda. One would hope not.
Your own thoughts on twitter use from within courts are welcome below…
Gavin Ward runs WardblawG, is a non-practising Scots lawyer, tutor and is a legal technology consultant with a particular interest in getting legal practices to the number one spot in Google and in social media for law firms, having set up and run several twitter accounts for firms in order to develop business. He tweets mainly under @GavWard @WardblawG and @ScotsLawBlog among many more. Seminars on social media for law firms will be delivered later in 2011. Connect with me on Linkedin for further details