Twitter threatens UK legal system, Chief Justice warns

The use of social networking websites during court proceedings is threatening the impartiality of the British legal system, the country’s most senior judge has warned.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge claims that users of sites such as micro-blogging platform Twitter could flood the Internet with messages in an attempt to influence a jurors’ opinions. Such a scenario could lead to a mistrial.

"We cannot stop people ‘tweeting’, but if jurors look at such material, the risks to the fairness of the trial will be very serious, and ultimately the openness of the trial process on which we all rely would be damaged," he said.

There is currently no UK legislation that prevents jury members from using the Internet outside of a courtroom during a trial. However, Lord Judge advised that those taking part in court proceedings should be warned of the repercussions of misusing electronic communications.

"If it is not addressed, the misuse of the Internet represents a threat to the jury system which depends, and rightly depends, on evidence provided in court which the defendant can hear and if necessary challenge," he commented.

The legal implications of messages posted on Twitter have been a contentious issue of late. In November, Briton Paul Chambers lost a court appeal against his conviction for ‘sending menacing electronic communications’. In summer 2010, he tweeted a hoax threat to blow up Nottingham Robin Hood Airport after it was temporarily closed due to bad weather.

Chambers losing his appeal encouraged thousands of fellow Twitter users to ‘retweet’ the original threat in an act of solidarity. Authorities have so far said they do not plan to bring legal action against anyone doing so.

Peter Done

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula Business Services, the personnel and employment law consultancy he set up having already built a successful betting shop business.

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