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Can you all just stop doing contempt of court, pleads Attorney General

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#ThinkBeforeYouPost campaign warns public about prejudicing trials via social media

The Attorney General would like people to cut out the contempt of court online.

Michael Ellis QC kicks off a #ThinkBeforeYouPost campaign today, aimed at educating Joe Public about the risk of trials collapsing because of social media speculation about guilt or innocence. It also emphasises the punishments that can be handed down, including jail terms.

The AG, who among other things oversees the Crown Prosecution Service, cites the social media furore that greeted the arrest of a police officer in connection with the death of Sarah Everard earlier this year. Ellis reckons that it risked interfering with the case, which is ongoing.

The basic rationale for contempt of court rules is that people can’t get a fair trial if potential jurors have already made up their minds in advance. The campaign helpfully provides examples of tweets that could amount to contempt, such as “she’s definitely guilty, she’s done it before and did two years in jail. Hope she gets a massive jail sentence #throwawaythekey”.

Contempt also covers things like publishing embargoed court judgments or naming people granted anonymity.

In 2015, the trial of two teenage girls charged with murdering Angela Wrightson in her Hartlepool home was halted because of what the judge called “an avalanche of prejudicial comment”. Scrapping the proceedings and starting again cost tens of thousands of pounds. The pair were eventually convicted following a new trial, with the media banned from posting their reports on social media or allowing comments under articles.

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Ellis, who’s standing in for regular AG Suella Braverman during her maternity leave, said “a post on social media could mean a trial is delayed or at worst stopped because a fair trial isn’t possible”.

He added: “It is not only journalists or lawyers who can be found in contempt of court, ordinary members of the public can also do so and find themselves facing their own legal consequences”.

The campaign marks a shift in emphasis from the legal authorities. In 2019, the Attorney General and Justice Secretary published a joint report finding that “social media doesn’t currently pose a serious threat” and created only a “relatively minor” risk for the integrity of trials.

Robert Buckland, then Solicitor General, revealed that the law officers have special contempt hotlines into Google, Facebook and Twitter so that they can get dodgy content pulled quickly.

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7 Comments

QCs Without 1sts LLP

Wish #thinkbeforeyoupost applied to tweeting about fox-killing

(18)(1)

Bert the Sweep

It’s not a joly horliday anymore?

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Maybe just modernise the rules instead.

(2)(6)

Touker

This should also extend to the misandric practice of trial by media that occurs every time a man is accused of doing something even vaguely ‘offensive’ to a woman.

(37)(10)

Len

You can’t say that, you misogynist. Don’t you know men commit more crime than women?

BAN MEN
CURFEW NOW

>this post was satire based on genuine social media posts<

(0)(0)

Lamb

10 people thought trial by media for men is a good thing. Nicely demonstrating the problem with social media. Humans are inherently flaw to be honest. Does make you wonder about trial by jury. 50% of the population have an IQ below 100. Fortunately the bell curve is fat enough that the chances of someone who can barely spell their own name is small, but still makes me wonder if everyone is suitable to be a juror. Ofcourse the idea of trial by a jury of one’s peers is at the heart of the system. Perhaps the jurors should be selected so they have comparable intelligence to the defendant. Anyway, I digress. Maybe the answer to the contempt of court problem is simply to restrict reporting of a coming trial. I do wonder sometimes about the reporting of people charged with a crime getting more publicity than when they might be absolved in one way or another.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It is not that we are in contempt of court, but that the court is held in contempt, by us.

(1)(5)

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