NI Juror use of social media needs to be tackled says retired judge

By Gary Adair

Just six weeks into a nine month inquiry about sexual offences cases in Northern Ireland, retired judge Sir John Gillen has already said that it is vital to tackle the use of social media by juror members.

The comments come not long after the conclusion of the high profile trial which resulted in two Ireland and Ulster Rugby players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, being cleared of rape, and in which the use of social media to cover the case was unprecedented. In that case, social media posts from members of the public in the courtroom gave an almost live account of the trial, and Sir John Gillen has speculated that in sexual offences cases it may be necessary to exclude the public from the court. He suggested that the complainant's anonymity in sexual offences cases has "disappeared" because their name was so readily circulated on social media.

With reference to the relative small size of Belfast, Sir John said that the use of social media to disclose information about the complainant made a "farce" of the law. To that end, he suggested that the public may have to be excluded from the court on order "to make some efforts to control social media". He also said that he was considering recommending the introduction of anonymity for defendants in sexual offences trials, which currently is only reserved for the defendant.

At this early stage of his enquiry he said that he was certain that the complaint process in respect of sexual offences was too long, that the trial was "unacceptably daunting", and that society needed to "reassess our whole approach to the trauma of serious sexual offences". He added that social media was "a vital factor in all three of these aspects".

Sir John issued a warning to jurors who use social media during a case, saying "the hammer of the law should come down on those who indulge in misconduct".