March 11, 2019
The Government’s response to its Call for Evidence on the impact of social media on criminal trials has revealed that social media does not currently pose a serious threat.
The Call for Evidence asked for examples of trials being affected by social media commentary, and evidence of anonymity orders or reporting restrictions being breached via social media.
Individuals from across the criminal justice system, as well as members of the public, media organisations and academics, were consulted and agreed that, although the risk has increased in recent years, social media does not yet pose a serious threat to the criminal justice system.
One area of concern was that some social media users are unaware of reporting restrictions and of what would constitute a breach of an anonymity order or contempt of court. Therefore, social media posts that are in contempt of court or that identify someone subject to an anonymity order are not uncommon. This has the potential to put trials at risk, as it could prejudice parties involved in the case, such as jurors, although cases where this has occurred have so far been rare.
To address these concerns, a new “Contempt of Court” webpage on GOV.UK has been launched to promote the safe use of social media by clearly and accessibly explaining the risks and implications of using social media to undermine the administration of justice.
To further mitigate the risk of juries becoming prejudiced, the Judicial Office has begun work to produce new, comprehensive guidance on contempt for jurors. However, members of the judiciary reported that they are confident that they already have access to the tools necessary to mitigate the effects of prejudicial social media posts, although there was some concern about the delay that these can cause to the trial process. To read the Attorney General’s Office’s press release in full and to access the response, click here.