It might do if it ruins a criminal trial. And the government is now looking for evidence of whether new laws are needed to stop it happening.
The Attorney General, the government’s top law officer, is asking judges, police and victims’ groups for examples of where posts, chats and tweets have compromised a trial.
So how can a post on social media cause such damage? And what can you do to protect yourself? Well, it’s all down to whether you say something that would influence a jury.
- If you have a friend on a jury, don’t message them on Facebook asking about their case – they’re not allowed to tell you.
- In fact don’t approach jurors at all.
- Don’t post messages saying you know the defendant in a case definitely did it. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
- In fact, don’t comment on the character of defendants, victims or any witnesses.
- If you’re on a jury, don’t look up the history of the case.
- Don’t contact the defendant on Facebook to tell them you’re on their side.
- Ask yourself whether any of your actions on social media could influence a case. Journalists know the limits and get professional legal advice. If we’re not doing it, there’s a good reason why. Jurors receive robust warnings to ignore reports outside of the court room – and judges have to trust them to impartially hear the evidence. But in our law, there still comes a point where comment can become criminal. It’s called contempt of court.
A journalist reporting a murder trial would be in serious trouble if he or she blurted out that the defendant had in fact killed before – a fact that has been kept from the jury to ensure they return a verdict uninfluenced by past events.
The judge would have to decide whether any juror who had heard the report would have been so swayed as to be incapable of assessing the evidence presented in court.
The reporter might want to think about packing their toothbrush: they could be going to prison. Journalists are trained to know better.
But social media is changing everything. Everyone is still subject to the same rules – but the problem is that very few people outside of the law and media have a clue about contempt of court unless they’ve been involved in a trial.
At the same time, almost everyone has got an opinion. And if you post it on social media, an awful lot of people are going to read it. (#Copied)