The top legal adviser to the Government is calling for expert evidence on whether current laws protect against “trial by social media”. 

Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC is seeking examples of posts, chat and tweets that have jeopardised court cases.

If a social media post or comment wrecks a criminal trial, the poster could be charged with contempt of court.

Members of a jury receive strong warnings to ignore information from outside the courtroom and to impartially judge the evidence - but social media posts are still at risk of becoming criminal.

Journalists are bound by strict rules when reporting court proceedings, but now thanks to social media anyone can publish information deemed to be in contempt of court - and few are familiar with the laws.

HOW TO AVOID BREAKING THE LAW ON SOCIAL MEDIA

  • If a defendant isn't named, there is likely to be a court order or other legal reason preventing them being identified - don't name them on social media.
  • Don't speculate that a defendant is guilty before a verdict has been returned by the jury.
  • It's safest not to comment at all on a defendant, witness or victim.
  • Don't name victims of sexual offences.
  • Don't name children who are on trial. 
  • Don't take photos or videos or sound recordings if you are in court.
  • If you know someone on a jury, don't ask them about the case.
  • Don't try to contact a defendant or jurors via social media.
  • If information is not published in a media court report, it's very likely that there's a good reason why. Don't add your own information via social media.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC is appealing for victims’ groups, solicitors and judges to provide evidence of what effect social media has on criminal trials.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jeremy Wright
Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC​

Examples of court orders and reporting restrictions being breached by such online posts are wanted by Mr Wright.

His office will compile a report following the so-called Call for Evidence, setting out whether changes need to be made to address any potentially increased risks caused by social media use.

He said: “Every defendant in this country is entitled to a fair trial where a verdict is delivered based on the evidence heard in court.

“Our contempt of court laws are designed to prevent trial by media, however are they able to protect against trials by social media?

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“I am looking for expert evidence on whether the increasing influence and ubiquity of social media is having an impact on criminal trials and, if so, whether the criminal justice system has the tools it needs to manage that risk.”

The Call for Evidence is open until December 8.