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Attorney general warns that Twitter users could face court sanctions

Contempt of court injunctions could apply to tweets
Tue Jun 07 2011, 12:45

TWITTER USERS could face fines or even jail for contempt of court if they breach privacy injunctions, according to UK attorney general Dominic Grieve.

Grieve was speaking in an interview with Joshua Rozenberg on the Law in Action show on BBC Radio 4 when he warned that Twitter users are not exempt from having to follow court privacy orders.

He said he will "take action ... if necessary", if it is in the public interest or will maintain the rule of law. However, he qualified this statement by saying it's not something he really wants to do.

The issue came up after footballer Ryan Giggs was named on Twitter and several news outlets as having an affair with Imogen Thomas. Giggs had previously secured a super injunction to stop the press from discussing the affair, and so he sued Twitter for breaching that injunction, seeking to identify the users who named him. Many people, however, felt that it was unrealistic to sue the 75,000 people who tweeted details of the affair.

That might not protect Twitter users, however, who could be hailed into court by Grieve himself, with a possible fine or prison sentence for comtempt of an injunction.

Grieve previously had said he didn't think it was right that an order from a judge to the jury not to look up information relating to a case online should protect the media from being in comtempt of court in terms of its ability to influence a case. He brought this matter to court in the case of two newspapers that were seen to be wrongly influencing a case and ultimately the court agreed with his viewpoint.

Rozenberg suggested that it is unrealistic to fight against the internet, Twitter and mistaken publications that are in contempt of court, but Grieve did not agree, asserting that the media needs to be more responsible in how it covers cases to ensure that it is not prejudicing jury deliberations and ultimate judgements.

It was suggested that a possible solution to the privacy issue would be to bring in new laws to make the identity of an individual anonymous until they had been charged. However, Grieve said there were potential problems with this in terms of an investigation and he would have to mull it over before coming up with any recommendations.

The problem for Grieve and the courts in general is that the internet is much more difficult to police than the mainstream media. While we can expect a certain level of professionalism and proper conduct by newspapers, it is difficult to enforce this on the general tweeting public, the majority of whom are simply commenting on information made available elsewhere. Grieve's words show, however, that users of social media might want to be a little more careful about what they share. µ


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