Following in the footsteps of the US Supreme Court, the UK Supreme Court (SC) signed up for Twitter on February 1. It was first used to live-tweet coverage of the new justice Lord Reed’s swearing-in ceremony, and the SC has been tweeting since then about the cases it hears in an effort to increase transparency in the legal system.
@UKSupremeCourt is run by the SC’s communications team, who promise 2-3 tweets each week on cases, judgments, and any corporate announcements from the SC. The SC’s Twitter policy can be found here. This short document spells out how often the SC will tweet on average, its rules on @replies, and why they will not follow you back if you follow them.
The timing of the SC’s move has been interpreted as a signal of the UK Court’s readiness to start using Twitter before its judges have prepared their expected judgment in Julian Assange’s appeal against his extradition to Sweden. The verdict for that is due within the next couple of months.
What does this have to do with EU law, you might ask. Well, although many of its judges seem concerned that live-blogging or tweeting from inside the courtroom may adversely impact the administration of EU justice, I believe that the Court of Justice of the European Union should follow the UK Supreme Court’s example. I would like to provide some illustrations of the impact that judicial tweeting might have on the EU judicial system.
The full text of judgments and Opinions is available on the Curia site, in general from 12:00 CET on the day of delivery. However, there is no other institutional medium enabling observers to learn about the outcome of a case beforehand. Given that judgments are generally read at 9.30 am, this leaves a vacuum in the news cycle. You are in the courtroom when the judgment is read or you are lucky enough to have a journalist reporting about the case, otherwise you will be left in a news vacuum.
Sure, if you really want to know, you may want to call somebody (the Media division or the Registrar) at the Court and – given the public character of the reading of the judgment – you will be entitled to know.
Wouldn’t it be easy simply to have the Court of Justice of the European Union tweet about the outcome of the case? While most social media, such as facebook or linkedin, are not suitable to the features inherent to a judicial setting, the kind of microblogging offered by Twitter seems wonderfully to serve the purpose.
This is something that could be done very easily, for free and without infringing any features specific to the judicial context. Rather such an initiative would render effective the principle of openness enshrined in Article 15 TFEU.
While the dispositive part of the judgment does not always fit within the Twitter 140-character policy, it should not be too difficult to shorten it by cutting full legislative references. Of course, the principle of multilinguism – governing the EU Courts’ judicial activities – might suffer, temporarily at least, as the Court media service might not be able to immediately activate the service in all 23 official languages. Contrary to what you might expect, a majority of the 200 million tweets generated every day are in languages other than English.
Twitter’s potential to inject openness into the EU judiciary goes well beyond the publication of imminent judgments. Should the Court allow journalists to tweet live-updates of the court’s proceedings during a public hearing (something which is not currently permissible), this might substantiate the recent extension of the principle of openness to the EU Courts. For a discussion on how judicial tweeting might change judicial reporting, see here.
Far from overestimating the potential of twitter, its (wise) judicial use might provide an additional, effective, immediate and easy-to use channel of communication of the (EU) Courts to the general public.
Should the members of the Court resist the temptation of opening Twitter or Facebook accounts? This is a very different question to which a common sense-inspired answer would be: please don’t give into temptation! For an incipit of this debate in the US click here.
For a list of EU offices, agencies and institutions that have created official accounts on social networks and other sites dedicated to sharing content, click here. While most EU Commissioners and EU Agencies have a twitter account, only the Parliament is on myspace.
How much time before the EU Courts will tweet ?
The tipping point for Twitter’s popularity among courts is there, just behind the courtroom.
This is a revised version of a post which first appeared here.