Guidance for twitter users on discussing legal cases

By Neil Logan

The attorney general will soon produce guidance to users of Twitter and other social media sites in respect of discussing live court cases.

There have been a number of incidents of twitter users commenting on an active legal case, which can result in a charge of contempt of court for them, and cause the trial to collapse and have to be re-started at enormous cost to the taxpayer. There have also been cases of twitter users disrespecting the anonymity of victims, in particular earlier this year in the case of a rape victim who was named, and most recently when Peaches Geldof named the mothers of two babies who were abused by singer Ian Watkins. Those tweets are currently being investigated by the police as they by proxy result in the identification of the babies who were abused.

The rise of social media has resulted in a number of legal cases over the past few years, most caused through a lack of understanding by social media users as to the implications of posting comments online. Many do not realise that they are not simply engaging in 'harmless banter' with friends, but in fact entering the same realms as mainstream media, and therefore subject to the same laws. The difference is that social media users don't have an editor and legal team to proof-read what they publish.

The guidance is to be issued to ensure that the principle of a 'fair trial' is maintained, and to avoid a scenario were jury trials become impossible.

If you require legal advice from a criminal law solicitor in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by calling 0800 840 0546.