Attorney general to take action against Twitter and Facebook users committing contempt of court

Dominic Grieve: the government's attorney general
Dominic Grieve: the government's attorney general

The government's attorney general is determined to bring an understanding of UK law to social media users by issuing legal guidance to people on Facebook and Twitter, with the aim to prevent users from committing contempt of court.

From today (4 December) advisory notes from attorney general Dominic Grieve QC MP will be published on the site and on Twitter through the @AGO_UK account, updating the traditional method of legal advisories issued to print and broadcast media outlets on a "not for publication" basis.

This new move aims to make sure a fair trial takes place and to ensure social media users’ comments comply with the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

The attorney general said: "Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post. This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system.

"This is not about telling people what they can or cannot talk about on social media, quite the opposite in fact, it’s designed to help facilitate commentary in a lawful way.

"I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online."

It follows news this week that Peaches Geldof could face investigation from South Wales Police after she tweeted the names of "Mothers A and B" involved in the Ian Watkins case.

Watkins, a paedophile and the former LostProphets front man, admitted to a string of sexual offences committed against children and to the attempted rape of a baby.

In UK law any victims of sexual abuse are given life-long anonymity, which Geldof jeopardised by tweeting the names of the mothers involved in the case to her 160,000-strong followers, which could be used to identify the victims.

Geldof has since apologised and deleted the tweets, but at the time claimed she "assumed" the names were already in the public domain and on news sites.

Nick Armstrong, partner at Charles Russell LLP, said:  "The surprise here is that it's taken so long to bring the system of notification in line with the system that already applies with the print and broadcast media of warnings about specific high-profile cases and the need to avoid publications endangering current criminal cases.

"The announcement is better than nothing. There's common sense in the attorney general giving himself this ability to warn off the twittersphere, as a social media comment occasionally does achieve the sort of prominence which could start to get close to the 'risk' area – but questionable how much effect such alerts by the attorney general are likely to have in practice.

"The revelation of a defendant's previous convictions (one classic instance of a contempt) is as likely to happen thoughtlessly as deliberately, and is the issuing of a warning by the AG going to stop that? Probably not. But it can't be wrong to give the sort of advice which is now planned."


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug