Am I a legal commentator or not?

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.