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Friday, 10 August 2012

Should Judges blog?

It has been alleged that this guidance has been issued to the judiciary:

"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 (sic) 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. It is also recommended that all judicial office holders familiarise themselves with the new IT and Information Security Guidance which will be available shortly."

All eyes are now on this renowned Magistrate's blog to see how he reacts........

So long as judges  "avoid expressing opinions which.... could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general" why can't they blog as judges.  They can give interviews, write books,  newspaper and magazine articles and lecture as judges so long as they do not compromise their impartiality - why can't they write on blogs as judges?  What is the difference? Sir Stephen Sedley recently published a whole set of writings he put into the public domain whilst also being a judge (mostly in the London Review of Books) - nobody complained (I assume). The late Lord Bingham did the same.

It is going to be interesting to see how this develops........




8 comments:

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  2. Thanks for your support. I am taking advice from people I respect, and will give my view in due course. If I go, I shall not go quietly!

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  3. Is Lord Pannick still a deputy High Court Judge? And if so, how do his always fascinating public pronouncements differ in nature from those of, say, Bystander in The Magistrate's Blog, which has probably done more to educate the public about the realities of the magistrates' courts and the issues at the coal face of the CJS than any other on- or offline media source? I hope he won't have to shut up shop; it would be a huge loss, but the time has perhaps come to consider more seriously certain issues around anonymous blogging. This was NOT the way to go about it, however, any more than the extraordinarily clumsy fumblings around JP participation in elections for PCC (police & crime commissioner) posts. Lady Bracknell springs to mind. Perhaps the best outcome would be a more involved, mutually respectful and transparent dialogue between the senior and junior judiciary.

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  4. The obvious - sorry to sound know-all - reference is to Gordon Hewart, CJ 1922-1940, who famously (?infamously) wrote for newspapers whilst AG and CJ - most notably...er, "The News Of The World" (eg: Search for "gordon hewart news of the world" and you will find a link to Hansard and the 06/03/36 debate on the Licensing (Amendment) Bill and the opening speech by Gilbert Gledhill, MP for Halifax, where he specifically refers to Hewart's 12/01/36 article in "TNOTW" about the legislation and his (Hewart's) part it its passing, as AG, in 1921. There are many other examples).

    Whether or not it was a good thing for the serving CJ to write about such matters in a newspaper - and in the "TNOTW", was a point raised at the time and since. A point that still applies to all who sit in judgement in this country from the Supreme Court down to the lowliest tribunal chairer. Provided that care is taken to respect the Law and those involved in its working, "restrained" (I guess it could be called) blogging should be exceptable...even by the most senior judiciary.

    The apparatchiks at the MoJ who are probably behind this "guidance" (how will it be enforced?) may like to consider Precedent (something not a little important in English Law...), like the legal experts they are supposed to be, before bullying the blogging members of the Neasden bench and others.



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  5. Surely by amending the guidance to read:

    "Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, office holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must 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"

    then this would be sound advice and eminently sensible. As it istands, however, it is ridiculous. Quite apart from the issue of Judges giving interviews etc,how far should it extend? Should Judicial Office holders be forbidden to write letters to national newspapers? Or to chat ot friends or relatives about their jobs?

    It seems extraordinarily heavy-handed and I hope that it will be re-thought sooner rather than later

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  8. To keep it sweet and simple I would say Yes. well ofcourse its their own view too.

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