Twits in court

Posted on March 28, 2011. Filed under: forensic | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Here’s an interesting one – a friend of mine was giving evidence in crown court today and has just sent a text message to say that a journalist mentioned their name on Twitter.

Not so surprising ? Their name will probably appear in the press reports in tomorrow’s paper anyway. Well, yes – except for one thing. The tweeting was happening in real time. As the witnesses were being cross-examined a journalist was relaying highlights directly from the courtroom.

Now – I can’t help but wonder what effect this could have on the testimony of a witness who has yet to be called and who is being kept away from the court in a witness room. Usual practice calls for witnesses to give their evidence without hearing anyone else’s to ensure that they have not been influenced by anything that has happened in the court (with the exception of “experts” who have been granted the privilege of sitting in court to advise counsel).

Mobile data networks and blogging sites, of course, can completely destroy this isolation – witnesses can be sitting in the witness room receiving selected detail of the evidence as it is presented, possibly very carefully filtered by someone who really wants to influence them.

In this case, I don’t think that’s what happened – it’s just yet another instance of someone using a technology without thinking through the consequences.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the issue of technology in court – cameras have been banned almost since they were invented – perhaps we need a blanket ban on everything which can communicate with the outside world, in the interests of impartiality and fairness for all ? Perhaps news, just like travel and food, would be better for being a little slower ?

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    This is the weblog of Angus M. Marshall, forensic scientist, author of Digital Forensics : digital evidence in criminal investigations and MD at n-gate ltd.

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