UK Judges prohibited from expressing opinions on cases via social networking sites

The rules announced this month prohibit judges from blogging and tweeting controversial opinions about cases, even if those opinions are expressed anonymously. The guidance has been reported to have come into effect immediately. The rules apply to all those who hold judicial office in UK Courts and Tribunals, including barristers working as part times judges.

Those having posted comments on blogging sites such as twitter in the past have been warned to delete the comments or face sanctions.

The new rules have been laid down by Lord Justice Goldring (one of the UK’s most senior judges) who has commented:

  • “Judicial office holders should be acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves, both in and out of court, in such a way as to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary”.
  • “Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.”
  • “The above guidance also applies to blogs which purport to be anonymous. This is because it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered”.
  • “Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith. Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action”.

The Office for Judicial Complaints announced in June this year that the UK’s only Romany Magistrate Mrs Shay Clipson had resigned. The resignation was in response to a letter requesting her to remove comments from an internet blog that were deemed ‘inappropriate’, warning her, that if the comments were not removed and if she did not refrain from commenting in such a manner, she would be dismissed from her post as a Magistrate.

The second most senior judge in the country Lord Neuberger has commented that members of the judiciary are in danger of “devaluing the coinage” by giving too many public talks and “risk undermining” their independence by commenting on Government policy.

As senior judges are allowed to publish articles, books and give interviews, it has been reported that there has been a great deal of antagonism in legal circles in response to the official guidance.

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