Scotland

Twitter trial first for BBC Scotland

twitter page on phone
Image caption The Jim Devine verdict was revealed first for many on Twitter

Within seconds of the jury foreman twice uttering the word "guilty" on Thursday, the internet was abuzz.

The breaking news that former MP Jim Devine had been convicted was revealed first, for many thousands of followers, on Twitter.

That's because for seven days, I and a few other journalists, were allowed to tweet and text from the legal confines of Court 1 at Southwark Crown Court, on the south bank of the Thames.

It's the first time a BBC Scotland reporter has been allowed to tweet an entire trial and follows the decision of the English courts to allow individual judges to decide which cases can be tweeted.

On the initial day of the trial, I requested permission to tweet from the judge, Mr Justice Saunders.

Within minutes of that request, as he settled himself on the bench for the trial, the judge granted that permission, with the caveat that the judiciary would be watching closely what was being reported.

And so, using mobile phones and tablet computers, we were able to instantly report the progress of the first MP's expenses trial.

It began - as all trials in England do - with the opening statements of the prosecution, and very quickly we were into tweets about the first witness.

My colleagues at BBC News - in London and in Scotland - were able to follow the entire trial in a minute-by-minute way that would, until now, have been impossible.

Taking notes

Last month, the judiciary in Scotland allowed tweeting and texting from the Tommy Sheridan sentencing at the High Court in Glasgow.

That event was proclaimed a success and could be repeated, although it seems likely, for now at least, that permission in Scotland will be limited to sentencings, bail hearings and, perhaps, the summing up of a case.

The Devine tweeting experiment was not without obstacles.

The BBC will only allow reporters to tweet entire court trials if it can guarantee that the journalist will be there from beginning to end, ensuring fair and balanced reporting of the prosecution and defence cases.

And tweeting itself doesn't come without difficulties.

One of my followers complained that I wasn't tweeting as much as he'd have liked, so I had to explain that I was reporting not just via Twitter but for all of BBC Scotland's radio, TV and online output, as well as Radio 4, the BBC Newschannel and the One o' Clock TV news.

At times, those other commitments mean leaving the court but always, however, with a colleague remaining behind to take notes.

And taking notes also proves difficult when you are trying to provide a blow-by-blow court account by tweeting and texting.

If you are tweeting, you are not taking notes, and if you are taking notes of a frosty exchange between barrister and witness, then you can't tweet.

From the feedback so far however, the twitter trial appears to have proved successful.

The BBC beat all of our competitors by reporting the verdict first and many followers on Twitter seem to have enjoyed the ability to follow the case and the verdicts in fine detail.

Within seconds of us reporting the guilty verdict, others were retweeting it around the Twittersphere.

We will, of course, be requesting permission from Mr Justice Saunders to report Devine's sentencing in four weeks and hope to provide the same minute-by-minute account of those events.

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