Adjudicating in 140 characters or less
From the Solicitors’ Journal 27/04/09:
A magistrate accused by a colleague of inappropriate “tweeting” – posting texts on networking website Twitter – has resigned.
Professor Steve Molyneaux, aged 54, posted updates from Telford magistrates court under the user name “ProfOntheProwl”.
According to the Mail on Sunday one of the posts read: “Just about to hear application from three robbers from Manchester as to whether to remand or not.”
Another read: “Called into court today to deal with those arrested last night and held in custody. I guess they will be mostly drunks but you never know.”
Mr Molyneaux, who had been a magistrate for 16 years, said everything he reported on Twitter had been said in open court, and denied posting while a hearing was in session.
He told the BBC that the judicial system needed to embrace technology to improve transparency and let the people see that justice had been done.
He announced his resignation on Twitter.
I’m all for the judicial system embracing technology and improving transparency but I’m not sure this is the right way to go about it. After all, I’m not sure that having a magistrate tweeting: “I guess they will be mostly drunks...” etc. is particularly conducive to letting citizens know justice will be done.
Magistrates have a tough time conveying a reputation of robust and unbiased cogs in the judicial machine as it is without one of their more tech-savvy members tweeting his every thought on a case. Whether Professor Molyneaux was tweeting ‘in session’ or not isn’t really the point: it was still inappropriate. Given the reciprocal nature of tweets, it’s interesting to wonder just how his followers’ responses shaped his thinking. Either way, the simple fact remains that a key figure – and I use that term loosely – in our judicial system to be tweeting doesn’t really convey the right message: that the magistrate is open-minded, unbiased and will adjudicate solely based on the evidence put before him.
Still, maybe the idea has potential for a 21st century judicial system. While a magistrate should not be seen to tweet, perhaps it would be acceptable for a court clerk to - as an extension of his administrative duties? Maybe, in jury trials the idea could be expanded even further and a Facebook group set up for the jury to engage in. Let’s not leave the public out though: maybe a live video-stream of the proceedings, a YouTube video of the ‘trial’s highlights’ and associated chat room for the public to put their own thoughts to the judge in real time. Such changes would no doubt be referred to as the ‘Justice 2.0’ wave, or would ‘social adjudicating’ be more fitting? No?
But seriously, all things considered, I think the justice system is arguably better off without the Prof’s tech-savvy contributions. And as for tweeting confirmation of his resignation? Well, nice touch, Professor Molyneaux.