Live blogging from legal trials has become one of the most accessible and popular ways in which the public can gain direct insight into legal proceedings, particularly in countries where television cameras are denied entry into the courtroom such as Denmark and Sweden. Live blogs are descriptions of trials, written by journalists who sit in the public gallery, which are published directly on news websites. This form of reporting affords a higher level of detail and immediacy than available in more traditional forms of reporting and has become a widely used strategy for covering trials.
Whilst live blogging constitutes an important way of ensuring the transparency and openness of legal processes and documents – a principle known as open justice and a key component of many democratic societies – little is currently known about how live blogs are perceived by legal professionals or how they impact on their work practices.
The findings from the NSfK-funded study “Direct from the Courtroom: Live-reporting from trials and its emotional challenges” shows that the live blogs have quickly become a normalized part of legal trials in Denmark and Sweden. But, despite this acceptance, there is not always unity between these countries as to how they are used and perceived.
To begin with unity: although live blogs may publish incredibly detailed descriptions – for instance, of evidence and interrogations enabling the reader to “see” the trial before their eyes – respondents in both countries nevertheless understand live blogs to be akin to traditional news reports published after the fact, rather than immediately broadcast televised reports direct from the courtroom. Furthermore, whilst televised reports are seen to be an infringement on individuals’ integrity, live blogs are not considered in the same light despite the intimacy and specifics afforded by live blogs. Why is this? This could be due to the assumption by respondents that the written word is less intrusive than the visual display but more research is needed.
However differences prevail in other regards. In Denmark, the reports published on live blogs are actively integrated as a professional tool by several of the defence lawyers, prosecutors, and even judges. In contrast, such integration is not seen in their Swedish counterparts. At the same time, live blogs are also perceived as more problematic by the Danish respondents. Indeed, in Denmark judges are able to ban the publication of direct reproductions of trials. This contrasts with respondents in Sweden who do not consider live blogs in problematic terms and where live blogs cannot be explicitly banned (although they may be circuitously prevented under a ruling banning the use of electronic equipment in courtrooms if deemed to disrupt proceedings). This raises the question: Sweden is heading in the same direction as Denmark leading to new powers explicitly preventing the publication of live blogs?
Live blogging legal trials is a phenomenon in need of further attention as there is a risk these reports have important implications for legal security and personal integrity.
Lisa Flower is a currently an Associate senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Lund University. Her research interests include the digitalization of the courtroom as well as gender representation in the legal profession. Epost: Lisa.firstname.lastname@example.org.