You can "check in" to the High Court of Australia and
receive daily microblog updates from the Victorian Supreme and
County Courts via Twitter. During a recent interview with ABC Radio
National, District Court judge Judith Gibson was asked if judges
should be allowed to use social media. She replied: "You
can't have judges being like vestal virgins in an ivory tower
... because an essential part of being a judge is the reflection of
It is clear judges need to be across social media, as it appears
in evidence and in various causes of action for online offences.
But does the use of social media by judges undermine their position
as revered members of society, and will that in turn impact on the
integrity of the legal system?
In NSW, conduct is governed by the Judicial Commission of NSW
Code of Conduct and the Judicial Officers Act 1986. While the code
does not expressly address social media, the long- standing
principles can be applied at the judge's discretion.
Meanwhile, in February, the American Bar Association issued its
formal opinion, stating: "A judge may participate in
electronic social networking, but as with all social relationships
and contacts a judge must comply with relevant provisions of the
Code of Judicial Conduct and avoid any conduct that would undermine
the judge's independence, integrity or impartiality, or create
an appearance of impropriety."
Although there have been no test cases to inform the issue of
judicial interaction via social media in Australia, it is an issue
that clearly needs addressing.
The problem is not that judges engage with social media per se,
but how they use it, professionally and personally. No comment on
social media can be considered private, and as such any comment a
judge makes should be treated as public comment.
Although social and electronic media is dotted with ethical and
legal traps, most jurisdictions increasingly use these technologies
to improve the efficiency of the litigation process and increase
public knowledge and awareness.
In 2009, the Federal Court left it open to an individual
judge's discretion as to whether they allow cases to be covered
by social media from their court. Victoria is leading the way for
use of social media by the courts. The Supreme Court, the County
Courts and the newly established Koorie Court in Victoria all use
Twitter to post information about public events, judicial
appointments, opening times, fees, listings, even judgments from
The Victorian courts are prolific microbloggers, allowing links
via Twitter to live-stream sentencing procedures.
Tweeting from courts is recognised as an issue in most
jurisdictions. In NSW, it is governed by section 9A of the Courts
Security Act 2005. Breach of the section by citizen-journalists and
the public in using social media during proceedings could result in
up to 12 months in prison. Social media is here to stay and, while
it poses challenges for the judiciary, its importance as a
communications tool far outweighs the risks. So, yes, Her Honour
may be your "Friend" - but don't expect any
Originally published in The Australian.
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This was an interlocutory decision about the appointment of a tutor for the child appellant, to carry on his proceedings.
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