The Attorney General Tweets

So the Attorney General will issue guidance on what may not be tweeted about.

As the article on the Government website states:

Advisory notes from the Attorney General will be published on the gov.uk website and twitter from today to help prevent social media users from committing a contempt of court, Dominic Grieve QC MP has announced.

The advisories, which have previously only been issued to print and broadcast media outlets on a ‘not for publication’ basis, are designed to make sure that a fair trial takes place and warn people that comment on a particular case needs to comply with the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

Not that there are two restrictions: 1. fair trial and 2. Contempt of Court Act 1981

They might overlap but there is a risk of conflating two things in discussing what can and cannot be spoken about outside a courtroom in the UK.

The law is the UK is, and has been for a very long time, that publicising matters apart from the direct evidence that is given in court proceedings are restricted while the case is going on.

The phrase used to describe this is that the matter is ‘sub judice’.

The purpose of the law restricting what can be publicised is to prevent jurors from being prejudicially affected by what they might read outside of the proceedings in court and thereby unable to give the defendant a fair hearing.

It is not hard to imagine a scenario where something negative about the defendant – but which is completely unrelated to the case the defendant is being tried for – is printed or tweeted or whatever and the jurors decide that the defendant ‘must’ be guilty of whatever he is charged with.

So far, so good. It’s not the same as the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment in the US, but there are arguments both ways about whether that is a good or a bad thing.

The other much more recent development in the courts is where one of the parties in a civil case applies and is granted an order from the court preventing anyone discussing the case or even that there has been a case. Full stop. Period. Don’t talk about it. Don’t mention that it exists.

That’s much more insidious, and a threat to democracy.

Whatever the rules about sub judice, I don’t think there is a future for a court system or a democracy that tells people to shut up full stop, period, don’t talk about it, don’t mention that it exists.

Additional

I see that the Attorney General’s office states:

Future advisory notes from the Attorney General will be published to help prevent social media users from committing a contempt of court

and that the original article states:

Background:

The Attorney General has issued ten media advisories so far this year, the most ever issued by the Attorney General’s Office.
On average, he issues around five advisories a year.
Advisories have previously been issued around cases such as: the murder of Tia Sharp, Sgt Danny Nightingale’s Court Martial and the arrest of Christopher Jefferies.

I can’t find where the ten media advisories have been published. If you can find them, tweet me at @DavidBennett

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