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UK.gov to warn tweeting twits, celebs 'n' pals on court case comments

OMG, you can't SAY that #contempt

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The UK's attorney general is going to publish social media guidance on Twitter and the government's website to stop tweeters, Facebookers and other social media types from committing contempt of court when talking about legal cases.

Dominic Grieve QC said that the guidance would help to ensure fair trials for people.

Anyone commenting publicly about an ongoing case or defendant in a way that could prejudice the outcome of a trial could be prosecuted for contempt and put in prison, but many folks on social media don't realise they're held to the same standard as traditional media outlets when talking about criminal cases.

The social media guidelines come after celebrity Peaches Geldof was recently forced to apologise for tweets relating to the case of Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins, where she named his two female co-defendants, the mothers whose babies had been abused.

Publishing details that can lead to the identification of sex offence victims is a criminal offence, as the A-G warned at the time.

"Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post. This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system," Grieve said today.

"In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media."

Grieve said it was not about telling people what they should be talking about, but just about stopping people from "inadvertently breaking the law" and making sure that people were tried on the evidence presented in court, not what could be read online.

Social media, particularly Twitter, has run afoul of a number of legal cases recently. Police are investigating Geldof's tweets over concerns that they identified people who should have been protected. The HM Courts and Tribunals Service mistakenly published their names online, which were then picked up and published on Twitter.

Last year, several people were fined for tweets that named a woman raped by footballer Ched Evans in a case that generated thousands of posts on Twitter. ®

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