My attention’s been drawn to this news report: Steve Molyneux, an experienced magistrate of good standing, has resigned from the bench after being seen to post updates to Twitter about cases he was involved in. Why has it caught my attention? Well, because I’m a magistrate, and I use Twitter, and I have posted occasional updates about court business. So I though I ought to look a bit further and see what’s happened.
My initial thoughts are these: From what I can see, he’s posted nothing that wasn’t already in the public domain. (The Shropshire Star link has details of the actual updates he posted.) And his reason for resigning is not because he posted updates, as he maintains that he’s done nothing wrong. He’d already met with the chair of his bench and agreed to not post any more, but when he realised it was being taken further (he was asked to meet with the local advisory committee) he tended his resignation. But he points out that he resigned because after being “shopped” by a fellow magistrate anonymously he feels he can’t continue knowing that he could be having to work with that individual. At least, that’s the impression I’ve picked up as I’ve read the reports. I don’t see that he’s done anything wrong; anything that happens in open court is a matter of public record anyway, and he doesn’t appear to have said anything about confidential retiring room discussions or mentioned anything beyond what would have appeared in press reports about the cases in question. My own updates have been even more vague, as I’ve not said anything at all about individual cases. I’ve occasionally posted updates like “Day in court today; I wonder what type of business I’ll have to deal with” or “Broken for lunch, but have long report to read while we eat”, but certainly nothing that could be considered as breaking a confidence or discussing an individual case.
Even so: how do I respond? Do I decide that, until we’ve had any official guidance, I should never say anything about court online? To be on the safe side, I guess so. I expect I could have a long wait for any official guidance, though.
As I read more about the matter I may revise my views, of course!