Tuesday 19 June 2018

We need to look carefully to see if social media undermines the law in the Republic

A parallel trial in the court of online public opinion was taking place at the same time, writes Andrea Martin

Stock photo
Stock photo

Andrea Martin

The anger in the voice of Joe McVeigh, solicitor for Paddy Jackson, after the acquittal of his client and three others in the deeply disturbing, Belfast rape trial, was obvious, when he referred to the way in which social media had been used during the trial.

In the UK, the Contempt Act 1981 provides clear statutory rules for the reporting of trials so as to avoid interfering with the administration of justice. In Ireland, we have no such Act. We rely on the less clearly defined common law principles of contempt law, which have developed over the years through various court judgments.

The Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales introduced guidelines in 2011 for the use of social media during trials conducted in England and Wales. Effectively, these guidelines allow members of the media - who are expected to know what their legal obligations are under contempt law - to use social media in court. Anyone else must request permission from the judge to do so. That permission can be withdrawn at any time.

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