Social media, courts and the law

Social media has had a huge impact on court reporting, cases and the law. 

Nowadays, you are allowed to use twitter to court report and give the public quick updates on cases as long as you don’t make a comment about it and you give accurate information.

However, judges can still stop you from disclosing and publishing information. If you do post anything on twitter that isn’t allowed, you would still be prosecuted as it is still contempt of court.

Key cases were social media has made an impact include:

  • Inquests into the 7 July London bombings of 2005. In May 2011 journalists tweeted every key quote by the coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, because the verdicts were very moving.
  • Stephen Lawrence trial. This case had a huge amount of interest on twitter, particularly when it came to the verdicts and sentencing. In this case, prosecution tried to ban the use of social media incase prejudicial comments were made. Then the judge decided that reporters use of twitter is fair as long as they don’t comment.
  • Ryan Giggs and Imogen Thomas. On 22 May 2011, the Sunday Herald, a newspaper in Scotland, published a thinly disguised photograph of Giggs on its front page, effectively ending the anonymous court order CTB v News Group Newspapers involving Imogen Thomas. The paper added in its editorial column, “Today we identify the footballer whose name has been linked to a court superinjunction by thousands of postings on Twitter. Why? Because we believe it is unsustainable that the law can be used to prevent newspapers from publishing information that readers can access on the internet at the click of a mouse.” On 23 May 2011, Giggs was identified in the House of Commons as the footballer concerned. After this other papers started to name him because of absolute privilage.
  • Lord macalpine case. False allegations on Newsnight said that an unnamed “senior Conservative” politician was a paedo. Sally Bercow, wife of the speaker of the House of Commons, tweeted “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*”. McAlpine commenced legal actions against users of Twitter who had repeated the claims but users with fewer than 500 followers were allowed to settle the matter by making a donation of £25 to the BBC Children in Need charity. Acting on behalf of McAlpine, solicitor Andrew Reid announced: “Twitter is not just a closed coffee shop among friends. It goes out to hundreds of thousands of people and you must take responsibility for it. It is not a place where you can gossip and say things with impunity, and we are about to demonstrate that.”
  • Robin Hood airport. A man said: “Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”, on twitter. For this he was fined £385. He then appealed against it and had pay additional £2,600 costs. Stephen Fry said he’d pay because he felt it was unfair and that we should have feeedom of speech.
  • Elton John case. Sir Elton John banned the UK papers from publishing his and his partners names in a story about their affairs. Everywhere else across the globe, including Scotland, were allowed to publish their names. This ban didn’t stop the UK from finding out their identity, however, because of social media and Google.

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