After a spate of scandals where careless social media users have threatened fair trials and jeopardised anonymity orders, Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has taken steps to make the online world abide by the law.
Lord Leveson’s so-called “megaphone for gossip” that is Twitter and Facebook, is a very powerful and opinionated media tool which is sparking apprehension amongs the country’s top lawyers. In particular senior lawyers fear that the explosion in social media use threatens the chances of defendants in prominent cases receiving a fair trial, as a result of the large numbers of people with the potential to prejudice high profile prosecutions.
Although contempt laws apply to internet users, in practice they have proved difficult to enforce.
Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has committed to publish court advisory notes on his twitter page that until now have been reserved for mainstream media outlets: “In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media,”
“This is not about telling people what they can or cannot talk about on social media; quite the opposite in fact, it’s designed to help facilitate commentary in a lawful way. I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online.”
This is a historic move designed to make contempt of court laws fit for the social media age.
Patrick Smith, media editor of the BuzzFeed UK site said: “I think it’s a grown-up decision from the Attorney General to accept that Twitter is now one of the ways people disseminate and find out information. With newspaper industry cuts, public knowledge of the court system has been impaired. If there’s a way to tell people what’s going on in the courts that’s a powerful thing for democracy.”
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