I had to face a quandary today — am I a legal commentator or not? I write a blog, which has been known to discuss legal matters in the public awareness, or indeed comment on individual cases, from time to time. But is that enough? And does it even matter?
The reason for this thought is that the Lord Chief Justice has today issued a new practice guideline, covering who may tweet, or use other forms of text-based communication, from inside the courtroom. A “journalist or legal commentator” is not required to ask permission before doing so, everyone else is required to ask permission of the presiding judge.
There is a problem in this guidance though. There is no test to identify who is a legal commentator. Journalists are usually able to relatively easily identify themselves as such if challenged. However, there is no single identifying feature for the disparate group of us who from time to time comment on the law. Should we carry a printout of our blog, perhaps?
So is the category of legal commentator of any use to individuals? I suspect not. If I tweet from court without asking on the basis that I am a legal commentator, I doubt asserting that I am would aid me if the judge notices that I haven’t asked and hauls me up to explain myself under threat of the provisions in the Contempt of Court Act.
Therefore, even if I consider myself a legal commentator, I would submit that, for other than accredited journalists, the best course of action is always to ask permission of the presiding judge, via the court staff. The practice guidance, by its lack of definition of who are members of its permitted categories of tweeters, leaves too much room for misunderstanding. As in individual, I wouldn’t want to run the risk of any such misunderstanding causing me grief.