In case you haven’t heard Rebekah Brooks and five others have been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
There’s been a lot of talk on Twitter about it all, obviously. But people need to be really careful about what they’re saying. If you say too much or the wrong kind of thing, you could find yourself in real legal trouble.
The Crown Prosecution have issued a friendly reminder to all: “May I remind all concerned that these six individuals now will be charged with criminal offences and that each has a right to a fair trial. It is very important that nothing is said, or reported, which could prejudice that trial. For these reasons it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.”
The Contempt of Court Act 1981 states that you can’t publish material that creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice to legal proceedings current, pending or imminent. And yes, that does include Twitter.
Now you might argue that your one tweet would not cause a trial to collapse. But think about how many other people are writing that one tweet too. Or you may say that was never your intention. Well, that doesn’t matter either. Prosecution under the Contempt of Court Act does not need to show intent, it is actually sufficient to simply show that the publication happened.
Of course, this does all rely on one key thing: that proceedings are active.
Proceedings are active when: a warrant for arrest has been issued; someone has been arrested; a summons has been issued; or someone has been charged.
So, in the case of Rebekah Brooks and the others who have been charged with her, proceedings have actually been active for quite a while. But the reason we’re mentioning it today is that Twitter is buzzing with talk of the case and we don’t want anyone to end up facing contempt charges. As a general rule, I’d say if you’re not sure, don’t tweet it.
Image on home page courtesy of Joe Dunckley