The rise of WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook poses ‘very serious challenge’ for courts says Lord Chief Justice

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By Thomas Connelly on

Social media creates a “new and significant issue” for lawyers in rape and sex offences trials


The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales has warned that the rise in popularity of social media is proving to be a “very serious challenge” for the courts, particularly in rape and sexual offences trials.

Speaking at the launch of a book entitled Witness Testimony In Sexual Cases held at Gray’s Inn, London, Lord Thomas suggested that the increase in popularity of social-apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook was making life more difficult for judges and lawyers who had to ensure adherence to the rules relating to disclosure of evidence.

According to the Evening Standard, Lord Thomas — who assumed the top judicial spot in 2013 — told those gathered in the heart of legal London that he had been left astonished at “what people put on their smartphones”, before adding:

There is therefore a new and significant issue in relation to disclosure — one of the things that you would never in the past have thought as pertaining to much sexual offending.

Lord Thomas — a former commercial barrister at what is now known as Essex Court Chambers — admitted that he was “not used to seeing what happens described in such detail”.

The senior judge’s comments come just days after four students from The Royal Agricultural University — dubbed the Oxbridge of the countryside — were cleared of rape. The incident — some of which was filmed using video sharing app Snapchat — was claimed to have taken place at the annual May ball in 2014.

The trial at Gloucester Crown Court collapsed before it had begun after it emerged that the alleged victim had given different accounts as a witness in another rape case. Lawyers for the four students also alleged that evidence had been “withheld” by officers prior to the trial.