What a week it has been for Twitter in the Canadian Legal World – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on tweeting from the Court Room and Vik Toews’ divorce pleadings began trending on twitter.
The most interesting part of the divorce pleadings trending is that more people were not questioning whether these documents should be accessible to the public to begin with.
All Court Documents in Canada, unless sealed by Court Order, can be reviewed and copied by anyone who wants to sit in a Court House Office until it’s their turn and pay the fee.
As the Vik Toews twitter issue is currently playing out, it is also a lesson to those who want to use anonymous twitter names to lash out – as the Ottawa Citizen showed, you can be anonymous, but you can still be found in the IP age. While the newspaper did it quickly with technology, the Courts have recently ordered internet providers to release customer information for defamation law suits when people are trying to hide behind anonymity. Ultimately, if the wounded party has the conviction and the money to pursue an “anonymous internet attacker” they will find them and damages will be awarded if they can be proven.
Turning to tweeting in the Court Room. In the Civil Context, Court Rooms are open to the public unless sealed by Judicial Order, which rarely happens. As anyone can sit in a Court room, observe and talk about it, the only difference with tweeting in the court room is the time lag.
One important exception is that Judges will frequently exclude witnesses who have not yet testified from the Court Room. If those witnesses read a twitter feed that gives info as to what is going on in the Court Room, that is a Contempt of Court issue, punishable by Jail Time – maybe not worth the easily traced tweet, but I’m sure someone will try it one day and will suffer the consequences.
Of course, another impediment to tweeting in the Court Room, is the pronouncement by many well meaning Court Services Officers before the Judge enters the Court Room telling everyone to turn off, not just silence, cell phones. The rationale for this is that the cell phones impact the Court Reporting equipment – checking with individual Court Reporters, I’ve confirmed that none of my phones over the past 19 years (well, lets face it, portable cells were only being used by me for maybe the past 15 or so years) has interfered with their equipment.
This issue of tweeting in the Court Room will continue for a while no doubt: ultimately there needs to be a single policy that is followed in order to ensure all matters are treated the same way and not on a piecemeal basis depending on which Court Room one is in.
Inga B. Andriessen, JD