Podcast Episode: Media and the criminal courts in Scotland
Category: Criminal justice
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
IW - Ian Watson
JD - James Doleman
James Doleman started blogging during the Tommy Sheridan trial in 2006. At a seminar organised by Strathclyde University’s Centre for Law, Crime and Justice, James talked about why social media and criminal courts should be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem. The vast majority of court proceedings are not reported at all, and a great many are under-reported. Social media offers us a new set of media tools that can open up justice and enable citizens to take an active role in the world, going to court rooms or local Council meetings and telling people what is happening. James explained why he thought the problems tend to be exaggerated and reflected on how they could be managed.
JD To give you some of my background, I just decided to cover the Tommy Sheridan trial - and as I was going there and writing notes every day, I said well “what I will do is I will put the notes on the internet - I will put them on as a blog”. That was the plan … it was never really a plan “I’ll stick them on the internet”, and it took off. People starting commenting on it, people started to come up to me in court and talk to me about it, and we created the blog. And since then I have done another project, one of the Open Justice projects.
But I will start off with, if you like, the principle of the matter - what I think is the principle of the matter, which is essentially, what happens in the courtroom is public property, it’s as simple as that - courts are part of a democracy, they are open to the public, but it is all public property, anything that happens in court. There may be exceptions to that, but they are the exceptions - the rule is, it’s public property. And it was Lord Justice Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, I think put it best for the reason. He said “the reason why it is so important not to forget why proceedings are required to declare a public hearing, it is necessary because the public nature of proceeding deters inappropriate behaviour by the court”. So let’s be clear on what Lord Justice Woolf was saying there - he is not saying it’s a good thing that they are open, he is not saying it is good for the public that they can get to know what is happening the courts, it is not for the media to buzz publication - it is because the courts themselves have to be deterred from inappropriate behaviour, and only the public glare can stop that. It is vital for the courts themselves to be open. He goes on … “it also maintains the public’s confidence in the administration of justice. It enables the public to know that justice is being administered and partially it can result in evidence becoming available which would not be available if the proceedings were conducted behind closed doors”.
Again, how many times in a case have you seen where someone is reading reports on a trial and goes “I know that date, I was with the guy on that date” - new evidence comes to light because the courts are public. It also makes, and to me this is the key point - the more open it is, makes uninformed and inaccurate comment about the proceedings less likely. If you cover it up, people don’t know what is going on - that is when you are going to get inaccurate comment. And I think those two points, or three points of Woolf’s are key - it is necessary for the courts to deter them from inappropriate behaviour, it is necessary for the public and it is necessary to bring new information to light.
So we accept the principles. So looking at the Scottish legal system today, where do we fit in? And before we go on, Elizabeth Cutten is here from the Crown Office - I have to say, I couldn’t have done the Sheridan trial blog or the Open Justice blog without the cooperation of the Crown and their help. They were absolutely fantastic the whole time, so … well sorry, for the Court Service. You know, but I couldn’t have done it without them - so this isn’t an attack on the Court Service or whatever. But I just think that in the last six months we actually seem to have taken a big step back in terms of open justice. I’ll give you an example from all the way of yesterday. Yesterday, Lord Hodge, did the Rangers administration, the final hearing and that. Now this is a case with only a judge - there is not a jury to be influenced by any tweets or blogging, there is no witnesses to be intimidated or scared of talking. Yet Lord Hodge made it clear he would jail anyone for contempt of court who tweeted that trial. Now I have been wracking my brains all day for that - why not? Why the hell would you want to … I can’t think of a single reason. And again it shows a hole in the system - it is up the judge … that first principle we spoke about, the judge can go “well I am not interested in that principle, I don’t want anyone tweeting from my court” - don’t have to give a reason, and it’s done.
Also recently we had … and again I think this was a big step backwards in a sense, because the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee are looking at this whole issue of coverage of court. And I would like to quote Donald Findlay QC, not something I often do, but I’ll quote … Donald Findlay told the Committee there was a crying need for regulation of bloggers and social media, and this was his reason - “there are people who write, what I am reliably informed are blogs”, thanks for that Mr Findlay, “or diaries of some kind. You can’t find them, you can’t locate them, but they can put them on the internet. This man is on trial today, he has 43 previous convictions, he is a villain, he is a charlatan, and apparently there is nothing we can do about that”. Now leaving aside the fact that if someone done a blog no-one could find, it is hardly likely to hurt anyone. Findlay is basically saying … and I have researched this - since Donald Findlay made that comment, I have went and looked everywhere to find a single example of this happening, and I can’t find one - not one of people putting (… unclear) up on the net.
But I will give you another case, during the Tommy Sheridan case, the case next door to us was abandoned because a juror met the defendant’s brother on a bus and said “oh he’s guilty - we all know he is guilty - the whole jury is convinced he is guilty” - and the trial had to be abandoned. Now would Donald Findlay QC ban buses? Stop people getting on buses? Lock jury’s family members away? Of course not - there is a risk in any form of communication. But to ban all, to regulate blogging and regulate the internet on the basis of something that may happen, to me seems insane.
But as I say, the most sophisticated arguments came from Aamer Aanwar, Tommy Sheridan’s defence lawyer when he was on trial. And this is what he had to say on the same subject: “there is a crying need for regulation at the hands of parliament to defer to justice system - it is important to us all. James Doleman’s blog was an excellent piece of blogging, but we were lucky that it was one blogger who was conscientious and wrote down exactly what he said. What if it was someone else? What if it was someone that invited opinion”? I have known Aamer Aanwar for a long time, and it must be the first time he ever thought it was lucky that I showed up. But leaving that aside, I did solicit opinion - I had comments on my blog. If that is not soliciting opinion, what is? But the reason we had the comments was - we regulated them, we monitored everything on it, nothing went on until it was looked at. But that was my fact checker. The reason the blog was good was because of the comments. And I will give you an example - one particularly long, boring afternoon, the Crown were reading off lists of telephone numbers and I almost half fell asleep, and I just wrote on my report “Crown listed a large number of telephone numbers”. Within 10 seconds there was a comment up going “you missed out the fact that one of these telephone numbers was Cupid’s” - I had made a big mistake, but it was corrected. And all through the trial, the comments of what connected by blog - that is why it was accurate - that interaction between people who were at the trial reading it, and people following it.
And again, if you look at the Sheridan, and I have did this a lot - it was actually going to be my defence in case I got pulled for perjury, was - let’s look at a Facebook - there is a thing called OpenBook where you can search Facebook posts. Everyone is talking about the Tommy Sheridan trial - half of them are saying he is guilty as sin, saying things that would be in absolute contempt of court, all over Facebook. Checked Twitter, the same. Football message board, which is huge, I mean more people probably use football message boards than anything I will ever write - full of stuff about the Sheridan case - all of it completely contemptuous of court. You know, that discussion was happening. And what we are seeing now is, I think, the same sort of things that used to happen when people went in the pub and there was a big trial and they all talked about it, or people went to work and they all talked about it. Now they talk about it on the internet. Are we going to ban that? Are we going to regulate that sort of speech? Are we going to say “for the duration of a trial, we are going to stop comment on the internet”? Now how you would go about doing that, I don’t know, how you would actually go about stopping people talking about trials online, I don’t know, because that is now how people converse - that is how people talk. I just don’t think it’s impossible.
And one thing that has been done in America now is before you go into court, sit in certain places in the public gallery, you have to give the Clerk of the Court your Twitter handle and your Facebook login, to make sure you don’t say anything inappropriate - because it doesn’t affect the millions of people who aren’t going into the court, and they are maybe still writing and talking about it.
To be clear here, I am not talking about deliberate attempts to influence the jury, deliberate attempts to influence the outcome of a trial. That is something completely different and that is a matter for the Police, quite rightly, that is a criminal offence. I am talking about people who are either reporting a trial or just commenting on it, just talking about it the way people do.
There is a bit in … I don’t know if people watch The Simpsons, one of my favourite bits in The Simpsons is there is a riot at a rock concert and the reporter, Kent Brockman, makes a speech and says “well what is the problem here? Is it rock music? Well then again there was riot’s at Mozart’s Magic Flute - the solution, ban all music”. And very much the attitude is this internet issue could be a problem - we have got to ban it, we have got to regulate it. Now how can you regulate bloggers? We are saying there is a human right to go into a court, you have absolute 100% right to walk into a court and watch what happens, but there is no right to write about it, you can’t tell anyone about it. It really isn’t a logical position, and I don’t think it is really possible, a regulated blogger.
But I think what else, the other side of what is going on, as well as these issues that are coming up with the internet, is the other side - which is the failing model that we have already got. Because the model we have got at the moment is the public oversight of courts, what Lord Woolf talks about, is carried out by the press. Now can we all, any of us here, with hands on heart, say the press do a good job of this at the moment? It is not, again, anything against individual journalists who do a fantastic job - but are journalism, is our press covering our courts? And I think the answer to that has to be “unfortunately no” - even with the fall in resources, they have to do it.
Look at a high profile case - let’s take the guy who supposedly was acquitted of killing the Glasgow gangster, Gerbil … not a very scary name. Now day one of that trial, all over the papers, “definitely guilty - here is what the Crown says, here is what the prosecution says”. Day two, maybe a bit less. Day three, a bit less. Day four, five and six, nothing in the press. Day seven, the guy walks out of court. Because I spoke to journalists involved in that case and after Day three they went “no, there is no way he is guilty - he is going to walk - there is no evidence”. And indeed he did walk with no evidence. But who knows how, I don’t know how, because it wasn’t reported. Defence cases are so rarely reported - the first couple of days of a prosecution case would be reported - the press don’t report the defence case - which makes people really weird, that go “well that guy is definitely guilty and here a week later he has been released”. It is never reported why it happened.
An argument from my own experience then, Muirhead & McKenzie trial, the guys who sent nail bombs to, amongst others, Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. And there was absolute outrage amongst whole sections of people when their case was downgraded from Attempted Murder to Attempted Assault. Now the reason that was never reported was I was in court when it happened - there was me and one woman from the Press Association - no other journalists there. And there was a legal argument, which was quite a good legal argument, because the Crown had never led motive, therefore it was impossible to prove intent to murder. And in fact what that showed up, in my view, was a mistake by the Crown not leading motive. But that was never reported, they just went “oh, suddenly it has been downgraded” - no one reported it - for obvious reasons, there is just not the resource to do it. And again, that is a situation where the public have been let down really badly - if you haven’t had the information to join a judgement of what happened.
And it is not even the high profile cases - I would suggest to anyone who wants to know about the justice system to go down to Glasgow Housing Court and the Sheriff Court and see what happens there - it is like something from Dickens. I mean I have said this before (… unclear) - literally 20 people an hour getting evicted from their homes - one at a time, bang, bang, bang, bang. Nobody covers that court - it is not of any interest to people.
During the Open Justice project, one of the people involved went to the Immigrations Appeals Tribunal, which is meant to be an open hearing where people appeal against the fact they are being deported from the country, an issue with immigration, a big issue in the country - he was asked to leave - “we don’t have journalists in here” - the court staff were shocked, they had never seen anyone claiming to be a journalist. Now lucky in this case he was an NUJ member, he had a card, he could argue his case. But quite frankly this is a court in its history never been reported, and as far I know has never been reported since. So 99% of justice happens under water - no one ever sees it - the model is broken.
And what social media is - it’s not just “oh my God, this awful problem” - it is actually a way we could start to fix these deficiencies, a way we would start to start reporting things like the Housing Court, start reporting things like the Immigration Tribunal. It is an opportunity.
One of the biggest regrets I have from the Open Justice project - one thing I really wanted to do, apart from people going to courts, was to get court staff talking, with court staff writing about what they did - whether that was Judges, whether it was the staff who worked in the courts, the Clerks - them writing a little bit about what they do every day to open up the system in that way, you know? That’s possible with the tools we have now got.
I’ll go on a little bit about Twitter - I mean it is important to remember Twitter is an intermediate technology - five years ago we would be going “what’s our MySpace strategy”? You know, who cares about that. I am sure Twitter, in five or ten years’ time will be going “but Aamer Aanwar again”, I will quote … I am not having a got at Aamer, he is just kind enough to send me his written submissions to the (… unclear) Committee. This is Aamer on Twitter - “there is an inherent danger that if a live feed is introduced by means of Twitter, that all potential witnesses could overtly or inadvertently read what is said on Twitter, then tailor their evidence”. Appears to be a big problem. But again, at the moment, there is absolutely nothing to stop you sending your friend in and listening to the evidence and then phoning you that night and telling you what happened. It’s a criminal offence but it can happen. You know, this idea that this is a new thing. I mean Aamer’s argument … that is an argument for closing the courts.
There was a World War II American General who was asked at the start of the Second World War by the media “what should we report”? He said “I would let you report two things - point one there is a war, and at the end I would let you report who won it”. And unfortunately, some people in our justice system seem to think that that is the attitude we should have to the judicial system - you can report there is a trial and you can report the verdict, but that’s about it.
But even just now, it’s insane, like during Muirhead and Mackenzie, we couldn’t Tweet from court. Of course what you can do is take two steps out the door, send a Tweet and step back in. Is that a reasonable, regulatory framework. In fact that you will miss something - you might step out the door when the judge is saying “by the way, nobody report that” - too late, you have already stepped out the door. That happened in the Sheridan trial as well when the judge announced that Tommy was sacking his lawyers and defending himself. The journalists were all standing around and the Sky news woman made a break for the door, followed very quickly by the BBC woman so they could get this big, big story out - but just as they went out the door, the judge went “oh and by the way, nobody report this” - too late, they were gone. So they came in going “we reported it”, and then everybody else went and told them and they had to go racing out the door again. It is not a logical system. In fact it is much more disruptive than saying “okay, you can Tweet in court”.
And it’s not just me that thinks this - this is the English situation - they have just released their guidance on Twitter in court. I will read it out in full, it’s very interesting: A fundamental aspect of the proper administration of justice is open justice - fair, accurate, and where possible immediate reporting of principles forms part of that principle. In England there is no longer any need for representatives of the media, legal communicators, to make an application - they can just go in and Tweet, absolutely not even ask. Members of the public may make a formal or informal application, which means we can just ask the Clerk “is that alright”? And this can only be denied if it is going to affect the administration of justice or it will interfere with the electronic equipment in courts.
So we are looking at Scotland, which in some ways led the way on open justice, led the way on TV in courts, falling way, way behind. We are having case by case applications, we are not having a general principle. And okay, Twitter is just the technology now - we have to put a set of principles in place for whatever the next generation of technology is going to be, and the next generation of technology after that. Unless we have a principle worked out, we are going to be messed up.
So I would … I mean I know this is being reviewed - I actually think the English model on Twitter is absolutely right - it should be open unless there is a prevailing reason why not.
There are two more issues I would like to cover quickly and then we’ll have discussion. The first thing is the use of Twitter and Facebook by jury members - and I am sure there is a lot more expertise in the room than me, so I won’t go on too much about it. But I know when I get on the bus every morning to work there is a pile of free newspaper, the Metro’s, on the bus - no one under 25 picks one up. They just ignore it and go and sit on the phone. Now we are talking about jury members, we are talking about people who are in somewhere they probably don’t want to be, in a room, bored out their heads - what are they going to do? They are going to Facebook, they are going to Tweet, they are going to talk to their friends and stuff like that. And this is leading to real problems - of course it is leading to problems.
One of my favourite cases was in America where a jury member actually went on Facebook to one of the female defenders and tried to be her friend, because they thought she was quite attractive.
Another jury member in America was tweeting all through a trial and this was discovered, and the judge told “hand over your records” and he refused - and that case is still pending actually - he refused it “why should I, I never … you can’t prove I did anything wrong - I never commented on the trial, I just said it was boring and it was dull and I can’t be bothered” - and that case is still proceeding.
Now I think that this is obviously more expertise in the room to deal with this, but I think it is going to become impossible to say “no, turn your phones off - don’t touch your phone for the duration of the trial”, it just isn’t going to happen. People are used to being in communication - they are used to being in contact, and I don’t think this idea of building a wall round a jury in terms of social media is going to work.
The final point I want to look at is people being arrested for social media - just another element of how the courts deal with social media. I mean the most famous case was Paul Chambers, the guy who was wanting to go and see his girlfriends - the airport was shut because of snow and he tweeted “dear airport, you have got a week to get your shit together, otherwise I am blowing you sky high” - he got arrested - despite the fact no one believed that this was a credible threat to any sort of airport, he was arrested.
More seriously in Scotland, Sean Devine and Jordan McGinley, who are 16 and 18, are now doing 4 years in prison … although I think it might have been reduced on appeal, for setting up a Facebook page during the riots saying “let’s have a riot in Dundee and kill the dafties”, I think was the line that was used - 4 years. If they had actually started a riot they probably wouldn’t have got 4 years, but putting it on Facebook got them 4 years.
Are we now regulating free speech? I mean it is easy to be chatting away to someone on Twitter in the early hours of the morning, you might have had a drink … it’s what you want, it’s a conversation, a conversation that might happen in a pub, might happen in a bar, might happen in the workplace with no consequences. Because it is Twitter, “oh it could be seen as a threat - it could be seen as racism”. It could be you come back from the pub one Saturday night, you get talking to a Rangers fan on Twitter, or a Celtic fan, you make some joke about it and you wake up at 5 in the morning with Police kicking in your door and dragging you off. What is that about? I mean where are we at with that. We have to realise that 90% of stuff people are doing on Twitter … and again, I am not talking about direct threats, if someone says “I am going to come and kill you”, is obviously a different matter, but you know, unfortunately we seem to be in a system where, you know the old phrase “if you have only got a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? At the moment the internet is a problem, we have to hammer it, we have to regulate it, we have to authoritise it, we have to do something about it. Not saying, well I don’t think that is the right approach, I don’t think it’s the right attitude.
I will finish with this, and I have said it before - this is an opportunity, not a threat, for legal reporting - it is not a bad thing, it is not a terrible, awful thing that might happen. Yes, there are problems, but 10 years ago, 15 years ago, the only people who could report anything were professional journalists. If you wanted your opinion out you had to go and get a job in the newspaper, work your way up, get a column, well there you go, you can finally get your opinion out. Now anyone can. I mean I am working off this today, my phone - more technology … enough technology that I could just go tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, bang - everyone would find out. Of course you are judged, if you type a lot of nonsense people just aren’t going to read it - people in the social media world are judged by how good and how accurate their things are.
During the Sheridan trial there was another blog - I never mentioned it at the time, but there was another guy doing a blog, using my stuff, which is why I know he was doing it. And it was completely in contempt of court, it was just his opinion, it was ill informed opinions - nobody noticed it - or anyone who clicked onto it once would go “yeah”. So there is a (… unclear) process in social media - it is not that everyone can just write what they want and everyone will read it. People who are read are people who are accurate. People who are read are people who are liked and trusted. If it not good, nobody will read it, and that’s the final point.
As I said, I worry in the last 6 months we are going backwards - but in the longer term I think people will realise what is happening. We have got a new set of media tools that can open up justice - that can be a good thing. Yes, there are issues and there are problems that need to be addressed, but in general we live in an age of wonder where you can just pick up a phone and flick the world where people … people talk about citizen journalists which I have been described, but I don’t like. I think it is just citizens - citizens taking an active role in the world, going out and seeing what they think is happening - whether that is going to a courtroom and talking about what is happening there, going to your local Council meeting and telling people what is happening there. About opening up a whole world of information, which is now a possibility for us. And I think that, yes, there is lots of discussion, lots of problems and lots of issues, but we should see it far more as an opportunity than as a problem. Thanks.
IW Following James’ talk we had a lively discussion in which some people questioned the optimistic view of how the problems could be managed. A number of issues arose. Did social media, because of its ease of use and immediacy not make it more likely that problems could arise? By recording our thoughts and opinions on the internet were we ignoring the right to forget? Could the sanctity of the jury room continue when jurors have access to so much information? Or should judges give a clearer direction to a generation for which mobile devices, tweeting, recording and filming, are all parts of everyday life? Do we need proper accreditation for bloggers, and if so, how would that work? The question also arose of whether technology was neutral - the telephone can be used to call emergency services or make malicious calls. Some argued, however, that the dynamics of social media was such that it was not sufficient to say that the problems it raised were only variations on problems that arose with old media. The question also arose of whether social media was putting victims and witnesses at greater risk and making their courtroom experience more traumatic than before? Finally, was our confidence in the ability of regulation to prevent unforeseen circumstances not a little utopian? In his summing up, James considered these views.
JD Thanks for the discussion, as I said you guys clearly a lot more on this than me.
I will start with a quote from someone else - facts are stubborn things though. We can sit and go “oh it’s terrible, isn’t it, what about the good old days when you could only do it with a (… unclear) print, only proper journalists and now any bum can do it”. Yes, great, I mean nostalgia is fantastic - it ain’t what it used to be, but it’s fantastic - but that’s not the world we live in and it is not the world we are going to live in and the inevitability. You know, there is a train coming towards you - it’s inevitable you do something about it and you don’t bemoan the fact the train is coming towards you - you don’t say “ah, there’s a train, what can I do”? In terms of … if someone deliberately wants to mess up a trial, and I am not telling you any secrets, right? I deliberately want to go and mess up a trial - you go to the Vodaphone shop down town, you buy one of these, which is £30, you go away, you create a Twitter account, you go “blah de blah, 17 previous convictions”, you put it on Twitter and you throw it in the bin. You are unlikely ever to be caught. There is only one point though, no one is very likely to read it. Nobody would follow you on Twitter, it would be a brand new account, you wouldn’t have any followers, you would relying on someone else re-Tweeting it, which is unlikely to happen. So actually as a way of influencing a trial, it is not particularly good, it is not particularly useful, because nobody is following you on Twitter. Or say, Facebook - will go and set up a Facebook account, I will go and sneak into court and I will put nasty things about the witnesses. Who is going to see it?
Female People who are interested in the case will.
Possibly if someone deliberately went and did a search at the same time, that person would also find other information - real information of what we are talking about opening the courts up. How do we balance the false information? By giving them real information - give them the right information to eliminate, as much as we can, that possibility of someone messing up. It’s not a new thing - I mean jurors have been getting intimidated, people getting on buses and following them home - these are criminal offences. As I said with the example about the car - yes, cars made a whole new set of criminal offences - you can ram raid - no one could ram raid with a horse. Does that mean we should ban the car? No, because it provides loads of other things for us and stuff like that.
I have an issue with the … I agree with almost everything Elizabeth said, and I certainly learned a lot. I have a worry about this accredited blogger though. My worry is would I go in? When I showed up Day one in the Tommy Sheridan trial, “are you an accredited blogger”, “well no, I have never done this before” - “sorry mate, only accredited bloggers allowed, I’m afraid you will have to go and apply at the office and provide some credentials on a CV”. I think the rule should be you identify yourself, use your real name … I have a photo on mine just to be absolutely certain, and you have identification. So when you go to court you identify who you are, if someone asks, the Clerk or a Police Officer, and then that could be followed up. If you are deliberately trying to mess up a trial, it’s a criminal offence, it’s a matter for the Police. So anyone in court who should be Tweeting or writing in court should have identification and should have that available if asked for. But that should be the rule. And also if they do something terrible, then sanctions can be taken against them. But I worry about this regulation, you know, giving people the right - as I said, we all have a right to go to court and see what is happening, we all have the right to walk out of the court and tell our friends what we thought - you could even stand in a lecture theatre like this, if you could organise one, and I could go and call you back and tell you all about it. Everyone agrees that that is an absolute human right. So what’s the difference between that and a blog? How do you regulate on and not the other? It’s a really interesting point about the right to be forgotten … it would be, you know, if something (… unclear). There is only one problem - imagine the Police State you would need to make that work? Because not only would you have to pull it from Google servers, but you would have to be on everybody’s computers and “have you got (… unclear) - but is it actually possible to do? I really don’t think so. There have been interesting straws in the window over that - it was actually for the first time, I think in Germany, someone has actually been prosecuted … Google have lost a case - because every time you search for … sorry it was Melbourne, sorry - every time you search “organised crime Melbourne”, this guy’s picture came up. This guy was a victim of crime - he was shot in the head twice. But when you search “organised crime Melbourne”, the first thing that comes up in Google is his name and his picture. So he successfully sued Google and actually won damaged. I think watch this space - I think there is more of that to come, because Google have so far successfully carried off “we are like a telephone company - it’s all automated - we are not responsible for what comes up when you type in”, the result. I think that is going to change - I think there is going to be civil liability with that. But again, Google is Google at the moment (… unclear) - so watch that space on that one. On the 140 characters thing, you raised that a lot, and I didn’t mention it. Yes, Twitter is only 140 characters, but you can put a link on it - you can link to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, you can link to a map, to a picture, to a video. So yes, it is only 140 characters, but you can use that to link to things. Yes there an inevitability that people will re-Tweet thing they agree with and not re-Tweet what they don’t. So if someone went “I would re-Tweet if I think a guy is innocent, I will re-Tweet to make sure it looks like he is innocent”, and someone else would be re-Tweeting if they think he’s guilty. All we have to hope is this balances out - and as people become more sophisticate … and let’s be honest, do you read a tweet and automatically believe it is true? Anyone? Do you go on Facebook and see a Facebook posting “well it must be true - it’s on Facebook”, well you know, “it must be true - a guy in the pub told me” - and it’s not. People judge and balance these things. People are not, as you say, the (… unclear) of the environment. And I’m saying the same with jurors - I think they will look at the source. And they all get smarter and we all look at the source, don’t we? You know, where did that actually come from? Did it come from a proper newspaper website, did it come from Wikipedia or did it come from some crazy blog (… unclear) on the screen. So it’s judge your source - and that is what people will have to do.
I will finish with this - and I’m getting this from Lord Woolf - Lord Woolf says it - “a witness is less likely to embellish if it is public” - not more likely, less likely if the trial is public. It is important the trials are public because that is what holds the courts to account and stops the courts doing things we don’t want them to do. That is why it has to be public. Yes, there are 1 or 2% of cases where this is going to cause problems and we say … we already said it - it still happens every day in newspapers and people messing up - long before the internet was ever thought of, these things happened.
But we have the opportunity for the first time, in a controlled and rational way, and a sensible way, to transform how we look at our justice system and transform public knowledge of it. Courts are frightening places, courts are scary places - but should they be? Maybe if witnesses knew about what was going on, maybe if witnesses knew more about what was happening, maybe they would be less frightening places. Maybe they would be less scary places, because that is something we should explore. And the idea that again, you know, let’s be honest, 140 characters - I mean you are not really going … if you are telling a totally false story in court, you are going to have to remember what your mate tweeted to you, 140 characters is hardly going to get you through all the detail, is it? So yes, there is an element, there is always a danger - there is a danger of a newspaper report - someone could read it the next day before they go to be a witness. There is a danger of TV reporting the night before and there is a danger with the internet to contaminate justice. But let’s be clear - justice is the most important thing - people getting a fair trial is the most important thing. But what I am saying is, as I started from and I will finish on, that being open makes it more likely they are going to get a fair trial, not less likely. Thanks.
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