The Centre recommends that anyone attending open court be permitted to use electronic devices as long as they are set to vibrate or silent. The presiding judge would have the right to rule otherwise and any publication bans would be abided by on the onus of the device user.
“Public confidence in the judicial system is critical to the proper administration of justice,” said Stephen Bindman, a member of the Centre’s committee. “We saw this [the policy] as a further means of advancing the open court principle.”
Some provinces have opened courts to social media usage to greater degrees, like Saskatchewan. The province recently allowed the use of Twitter from courtrooms for accredited reporters, who may use electronic devices in trial courtrooms. Other provinces allow anyone to use electronic devices in open courtrooms and Nova Scotia allows tweeting from its Appeal Court.
Bindman suggests that the court policies must reflect the reality that technology is here to stay. If reporters can’t transmit information through tweets or other means inside the courtrooms, they will simply do it in the hallway. This could mean that said reporters miss vital information. It also theoretically means that the up and down of reporters leaving to tweet could create disturbances.
“A prohibition that requires users step outside to push the send button makes courts seem a little out of step with modern reality,” said Bindman. “Better the devil you can see than the devil running outside every few minutes.”
Some have suggested that the difficulty of defining “accredited” journalists could twist this potential policy around somewhat. In this day and age of blogs and other forms of media providing just as adequate (and sometimes better) information than standard mainstream media, the potential for social media exclusion could provide tricky layers to this case.
The question as to how much social media is allowed into Canada’s courtrooms has to be answered sooner or later, of course, and a national set of standards would create much-needed continuity across the country.