Discussing the “woman on the left” started as a bit of fun for Twitterers watching Hugh Grant’s Leveson evidence on Monday, but was soon picked up by national press and has even been discussed within Court 73.
As Inforrm reported last week, this is the first Public Inquiry fully live streamed and tweeted – both in and outside the courtroom.
At that point we didn’t know what direction the Twitter conversation would take, and certainly no-one would have anticipated that a jokey observation about one of the lawyers supposedly gazing at a celebrity witness would become part of national discussion and news coverage.
Allowing that kind of pub-style banter to enter the courtroom is perhaps not what advocates of televised hearings and digitised open justice have in mind. Thanks to the Mirror and many other publications, the name of the junior counsel in question has reached an audience far wider than Twitter.
Was the trend – and the subsequent news coverage – sexist in tone? The legal blogger Amanda Bancroft who writes the blog, Beneath the Wig and tweets as ‘Milly Moo’, says not: “
“If any person (never mind lawyer, and even less, never mind female lawyer) was being shown live on TV openly gazing at a movie star that way, people would be amused, and would no doubt talk about it. It had nothing to do with sexism, it was pure and simple humour.”
New Statesman journalist Helen Lewis-Hasteley did not find it as funny as fellow tweeters:
“Poor woman, I thought. She spent years training as a lawyer and now all anyone thinks is that she’s a dippy bint mooning over a famous actor.“
Then the Guardian wrongly reported, in a sketch by Marina Hyde, that the “Sun” had doorstepped the counsel. The Sun denies this, in a dramatically titled piece ‘Paper apologises to Leveson inquiry over ‘doorstep’ smear’.
Lord Justice Leveson was informed of the mistake in Court and the Guardian’s director of editorial legal services, Gillian Phillips, admitted that the Sun did not send a reporter to the barrister’s home.
“We apologise for the error and any suggestion that there was an intention by the Sun to show a lack of respect to the Inquiry or Lord Justice Leveson.”
It’s all got rather weird. It would be a great shame if this silly episode discourages judges from continuing to open the digital doors.