NSW govt seeks ban on court tweets

Tweeting from New South Wales courts may be a thing of the past, with the state government looking to ban the use of electronic devices in court.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The New South Wales government is looking to stop the use of electronic devices for recording, taking photos, and even tweeting in New South Wales courts in a move designed to prevent potential mistrials.

The changes were outed in a Bill put to New South Wales parliament in November, but were first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald this morning.

The Bill, introduced by NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith, would see people who tweet or blog from the court potentially punished with 12 months in jail and a fine of up to AU$2,200.

In introducing the amendment to the Court Security Act, Smith said he was aware that this would prevent tweeting in court without permission.

"These amendments address recent security incidents in courts that have highlighted the fact that the existing legislation does not capture the capability of recent technology," he said.

Smith said that the legislation was designed to address issues that had faced the court recently, including in relation to people "transmitting witness evidence by smartphone" to another witness outside court. But he also said that it wasn't a complete ban, and journalists could seek permission from a judicial officer

"However, it is important to preserve the principle of open justice. Although not common, there may be circumstances in which journalists wish to use electronic devices to report on proceedings contemporaneously through new media, such as twitter or by blogging."

"While these circumstances are not expressly covered in the proposed statutory exceptions, there is a regulation-making power that will allow appropriate exemptions to cover these sorts of circumstances."

Smith said that the regulations enforcing the ban would be drafted in consultation with the courts and other stakeholders, and a spokesperson told Fairfax that media would be included in this consultation.

The ban would apply to the NSW Supreme Court, the Industrial Relations Commission, the Land and Environment Court, the NSW District Court, the Drug Court, the Children's Court, the Local Court, the Dust Diseases Tribunal, and the State Parole Authority.

The Federal Court is under Commonwealth jurisdiction, meaning that Twitter coverage of high profile corporate cases, such as Apple v. Samsung, would not be included in the ban. The High Court of Australia does not allow the use of any electronic devices in the court.

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