Social media and contempt of court

Social media made the legal headlines again.

The publishing of sensitive information surrounding legal cases prompted the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve to act this week. He has called for social media users to make sure they’re not compromising the judicial system when posting comments online.

This comes after recent tweets from some users revealed the identity of victims granted anonymity orders. This compromises the right to a fair trial, granted to all defendants.

Contempt of court laws need updating

Whilst contempt of court laws do apply to the Internet, they have always proved hard to enforce.

Mr Grieve made it clear that as social media is now used as a mainstream outlet for public opinion, these laws need to be updated. He will shortly publish a court advisory note on the subject which can be viewed on the website.

Emotions vs Common Sense

Posting comments online is second nature to many, especially those who’ve grown up using Facebook and Twitter.

We’re emotional creatures and comments can sometimes be made without much thought. But the law holds you accountable for everything you say in such a public forum. And that’s the problem.

Common sense cannot be applied retrospectively.

Discussing an emotionally charged subject or item of news on social media sites can lead to snap judgements being posted which you may later regret.

But on the Internet there are no second chances. Once you hit the Send button, it’s gone. Broadcast. Regardless of whether it’s later deleted, your comment can be saved, re-sent, reported on, and may ultimately come back to haunt you.

What next?

It is hoped the guidance from Mr. Grieve will advise people how best to comment on news items in a lawful manner, rather than prevent public commentary or restrict freedom of speech.

It will be an interesting read and something every social media user would be advised to pay attention to.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments, below.

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