Twitter and Facebook users may be prejudicing criminal trials, the government’s chief law officer has warned.
Jeremy Wright, QC, the attorney-general, said that one trial had already been stopped because of prejudicial posts on social media and there was concern over whether the law was “fit for purpose” to deal with it.
“The established media understand the rules on contempt of court but I am concerned to establish if there is a wider issue with social media,” he told The Times. His inquiry into the impact of social media on criminal trials will be launched today and seeks evidence from judges, lawyers and victims’ groups.
Last year, the murder trial of two teenage girls in Hartlepool was halted because of comments made on Facebook. The two girls were found guilty of the murder of Angela Wrightson at a second trial.
The judge subsequently posted a wide-ranging order prohibiting the media from posting links to stories about the case on social media websites.
Media organisations took the case to the Court of Appeal, where Sir Brian Leveson, the senior presiding judge, called for the attorney-general to consult on the issue of social media and contempt, and to provide guidance to the media.
Wright said: “Our contempt of court laws are designed to prevent trial by media. However, are they able to protect against trials by social media? 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.”