How many Facebook users know that their comments on the bear-pit of social media sites Facebook could get them into BIG trouble?
And quite right too says the consumerwatchfoundation.com!
The reminder that the laws of contempt – and new ways of handling slander and libel online – actually apply to the pretend pundits pummelling politicians, police officers or ex partners just as much as they do to professional purveyors of news.
The warning came after charges against police chief Sir Norman Bettison regarding lies he was alleged to have told following the Hillsborough disaster were dropped.
Now the Crown Prosecution Service has warned people not to comment on the case in a public forum.
Sir Norman has had the four charges against him dismissed after the Crown Prosecution Service said they would be offering no evidence at Preston Crown Court.
However five men still face trial over alleged offences over Hillsborough and its aftermath.
So, strict guidelines are in force over what news organisations and individuals can write about them. The CPS has taken its extraordinary action because so much slander and libel appears on social media sites which in reality, despite new legislation, are still largely unregulated.
Cases are being commented on when they are still ‘active’ and and few people even realise that online comments could prejudice a jury in a case.
It also follows the social media outcry after Tommy Robinson was jailed for breaching a court order. His use of social media led to the conviction for contempt of court in May. He had been live-streaming outside Leeds Crown Court talking about a trial.
However, his lawyers successfully argued that the judge had been hasty and had not followed procedure in a contempt case.
The CPS points out that the law is simple, social media can not use comments that imply any suspect is guilty of the offence they have been accused of – and commenting on Bettison could have the same affect on any cases involving other people.
One pundit put it this was on twitter: “I know it’s hard but lawyers are watching and will use any comments that could influence a jury as a reason to get future trials shut down. This is really important. Five men still face trial over Hillsborough.
“Laying in to Bettison could prejudice those proceedings as their lawyers will argue (and I have seen them do it in the pre-trial at Preston) that adverse social media comments about that day mean they can’t get a fair trial.”
Sue Hemming of the CPS said: “Since the original decision to charge Norman Bettison in June 2017 there have been a number of significant developments which have affected the available evidence.
“These include changes in the evidence of two witnesses and the death of a third witness.
“Our latest review of the evidence has concluded the collective impact of these developments means there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.
“I appreciate this news will be disappointing for the families and the CPS will meet with them in person to explain the decision.
“I would remind all concerned that although criminal proceedings are no longer active against Norman Bettison, there are five other defendants facing charges relating to Hillsborough and each has the right to a fair trial.
It is therefore extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information which could in any way prejudice those proceedings.”
What Sue says is the reason the media has to stick to legal guidelines following charging decisions and why individuals using social media should be careful.
It’s not the first time internet users have been advised over what they can and cannot say – The attorney general back in 2014 issued a public warning on Twitter to help prevent contempt of court and there have been plenty since then. Sadly few people seem to take heed.