What prompted concerns about extra-judicial blogging and how should new guidance be interpreted? [Updated] – Judith Townend

21 08 2012

As Adam Wagner’s post on Inforrm reported, the Senior Presiding Judge and the Senior President of Tribunals has issued new guidance [PDF] to all courts and tribunal judicial office holders in England and Wales (copied at the end of this post).

While it does not entirely prohibit blogging and social media use, it advises that “…judicial office holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary” and “must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general“.

This has been well-documented and discussed by magistrate Trevor Coultart, Lucy Reed at Pink Tape, LegalCheek, the UK Human Rights Blog, NearlyLegal, ObiterJ and dozens of blog commenters and tweeters. The anonymous author of the Magistrate’s Blog, continues to reserve judgement. A user of the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website, Ben Liddicott, has submitted an FoI about the guidance here.

But what prompted the new guidance, now officially published on the judiciary website [PDF]? According to a spokesman for the Judicial Office,

“The guidance was issued because judges were concerned about the use of blogs by judicial office holders (both judges and magistrates).

“It is not appropriate to provide examples in response to the specific questions beyond the guidance itself; each judge/magistrate should use his or her own judgement.

“The guidance was agreed by the Magistrates Liaison Group: chaired by the Deputy Senior Presiding Judge (Lord Justice Gross) and attended by the Chief Magistrate, the Magistrates Association and the National Bench Chairs Forum.”

Practical questions about the guidance

  • Does the guidance mean a member of the judiciary can publish online under their real name but must not state their position (even if this information can be found online)? If so, what type of issues are they permitted to comment or report on?
  • What about material published by an individual prior to becoming a member of the judiciary, which can still be accessed online? Are they required to remove it once in office?
  • What was the particular impetus for the introduction of this guidance and what specific considerations (about the balance between the risks and freedom of expression, for example) were made?

Further reading on “extra-judicial” activity:

Guidance

This guidance is issued on behalf of the Senior Presiding Judge and the Senior President of Tribunals. It applies to all courts and tribunal judicial office holders in England and Wales, and is effective immediately.

Definitions
A “blog” (derived from the term “web log”) is a personal journal published on the internet. “Blogging” describes the maintaining of, or adding content to, a blog. Blogs tend to be interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments. They may also contain links to other blogs and websites. For the purpose of this guidance blogging includes publishing material on micro-blogging sites such as Twitter.

Guidance
Judicial office holders should be acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves, both in and out of court, in such a way as to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.

Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, judicial office holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

The above guidance also applies to blogs which purport to be anonymous. This is because it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered.

Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith. Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action. It is also recommended that all judicial office holders familiarise themselves with the new IT and Information Security Guidance which will be available shortly.

August 2012, www.judiciary.gov.uk

Update: The Judicial Office has responded to Ben Liddicott’s FoI request about the guidance. It supplied various related guidance documents but refused the request for “minutes or notes of any internal or interdepartmental or other meeting or discussion with any other person (including email exchanges) where the same were discussed”, finding that it would exceed the cost limits under the legislation”. See: Meeja Law / WhatDoTheyKnow.com

A version of this post first appeared on Judith Townend’s Meeja Law blog.

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29 08 2012
Law and Media Mid-Summer Round Up – 29 August 2012 « Inforrm's Blog

[...] What prompted concerns about extra-judicial blogging and how should new guidance be interpreted? –… [...]

30 08 2012

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