The Attorney General thinks that the risks of jurors prejudicing trials are manageable though growing. The view is set out in a response to a Call for Evidence published today.
The Call for Evidence was announced after the collapse, in 2015, of the trial in R v F & D when the judge, Mr Justice Globe, discharged the jury and ordered a retrial because of posts made on Facebook. 27 responses were received, mostly from the judiciary but also from interested organisations and four members of the public.
The report draws together the main themes raised by respondents:
- social media posts which are prejudicial or which identify those subject to anonymity orders are not uncommon. There is also the risk that this material could be seen by jurors, though that risk is lower than first thought
- many social media users may be unaware of reporting restrictions and of what would constitute a breach of an anonymity order or contempt of court
- judges already have the tools to mitigate the effects of adverse social media posts, though their use can delay the trial
- the case of Regina v F & D was not representative of a broader or serious threat to the administration of justice
In response the Attorney General will seek to:
- undertake a programme of public legal education to promote the safe use of social media
- update guidance on contempt, a task to be led by the Judicial Office
- work with Google, Facebook and Twitter to speed up removal of potentially prejudicial posts and also ensure that people searching the internet do not inadvertently discover the names of people subject to an anonymity order
- be part of cross-government efforts to improve the enforcement of the law on anonymity online and bring forward the forthcoming Online Harms White Paper
The first fruit of these efforts is a new Contempt of Court web page on Gov.uk that explains “the risks and implications of using social media to undermine the administration of justice” .