Many new judicial appointments are former lawyers with active social media accounts, including Twitter. Assuming that judges should be allowed to use Twitter, what are the rules?
The National Judicial College posted useful rules here. The recommendations include: not engaging in ex party communications, not giving legal advice, not conducting independent judicial investigations, and not discussing pending matters.
But what happens if you have an obnoxious Twitter follower? Should judges be allowed to block Twitter followers? Blocking a follower, prevents them from communicating with you and seeing your Tweets.
In the United States, there have been several cases involving politicians. Courts have ruled politicians blocking Twitter followers violates citizens’ rights, including citizens’ freedom of speech.
Do judges as public officials fall into the same category as politicians? I would argue that judges are different from politicians. Communications from an unruly Twitter follower could compromise a judge’s impartiality and could get a judge conflicted out of hearing a case. Judges should be allowed to block Twitter followers.
For example, someone can set up an account to spam judges’ Twitter accounts with information about a case that is pending before the courts or to be pending before the courts. This could be done as a way to steer the selection of a judge in favour of a party by getting judges conflicted out. Or, someone with a grudge against a judge or a lawyer could cause a mistrial in an ongoing trial by sending evidence that has either been excluded or would be inadmissible in a court to a judge via Twitter. There is also the potential for abuse of a judge after a decision has been rendered. A Twitter follower could hound a judge on Twitter as punishment.
In order to protect judges, judges should be allowed to block Twitter followers. To be a court of the future, courts need to be able to communicate to the public in a way that people understand. Social media is a useful tool for encouraging public respect for the judiciary. In order to encourage courts and judges to communicate with the public on social media, they need to be able to block unruly followers.
As stated by Justice Brown in Bank of Montreal v Faibish, 2014 ONSC 2178, “Why should we be able to expect that treating courts like some kind of fossilized Jurassic Park will enable them to continue to provide a most needed service to the public in a way the public respects? How many wake-up calls do the legal profession and the court system need before both look around and discover that they have become irrelevant museum pieces?” Participation by judges on social media allows the court to be more accessible with the general public. It helps prevent our courts from becoming irrelevant museum pieces by encouraging public education and outreach.
(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)