As demonstrated by recent Australian high profile criminal cases, such as the Meagher, Morcombe and Baden-Clay murders, the justice system are having to consider the effects of new media on the governing constitutional right to a fair trial.
In the USA and UK there have been a number of cases whereby jurors and witnesses have been caught using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to comment on the case they are involved with.
Legally this amounts to contempt of court and is considered a serious violation of the justice system.
Although this is not yet a major issue affecting Australian courts, NSW have decided to cut the head off the snake enacting an amendment to the NSW Court Security Act (2005).
The newly incorporated section prohibits the ‘unauthorised transmission of court proceedings from the courtroom’ including communication through the use of tablets, smartphones and laptops.
Violation of this act carries with it fines of up to $22,000 and up to 12 months imprisonment.
There has been a significant amount of backlash amongst journalists in relation to these amendments arguing that the restrictions are a violation of freedom of speech. However, under section 9(2)(d) of the act, journalists and lawyers are exempt from the provision.
Which begs the question of whether this is just another overreaction from the media?
Yes it is true, the act eradicates citizen journalism in the courtrooms as explored in this blog.
However, it must be remembered that this is an individual’s life we are talking about not the newest Cake Pop recipe on Pinterest.
Court reporting should be left to professional journalists who have extensive knowledge of the laws and understand the degree of sensitivity needed in addressing legal proceedings. This appears to be a move in the right direction towards a more amiable coexistence between new media and the courts.