I read this article and it really made me laugh – typical “The Sun” phraseology and the comments in particular are so entertaining.
Apart from the fact that the article is written in a light hearted way, the message it conveys is actually very telling. The fact that the woman concerned did not relate IMing on Facebook as the same as discussing the case with someone just goes to show the way some people consider chatting on social media as a ‘less real’ means of communicating.
What I mean by that is it seems to me that some people use social media as an extension of their stream of consciousness thoughts, with little or no consideration of the impact an unedited brain dump could have on those reading it, or on the wider community.
Of course, this problem is not limited to jurors, although it is they who make the headlines because of the expense of re-trials should their action result in an unfair trial and the possibility of the juror being convicted of contempt of Court.
I have seen lawyers tapping away on their iPhones, Blackberries and netbooks on social media, chatting about goodness know what. I can see that it would be all too easy for them to get caught up in the moment and publish something they shouldn’t without immediately realising what they were doing. Sadly, once it is out there, it is virtually impossible to get back in.
Legal Professional Privilege (LPP) is an absolute rule between lawyers and their clients which means that private conversations have to remain private. How easy it would be for an unwary lawyer, at the end of a long day, to let slip something covered by LPP. The consequences for that lawyer would be disciplinary action leading to being struck off if the wrong is bad enough.
I actually think the problem is not with social media and its users, but with the legal system itself which has failed to appreciate that emailing, texting, posting and IMing are everyday occurrences for most people and should have adapted the training accordingly.
Judges should include in the jury warning not to post or write anything about the trial anywhere while the trial is continuing, including by email, text, social media post and IM.
Trainee lawyers should, as part of their LPP training, be warned of the dangers of using social media other than in a very considered way for anything other than purely social matters.
We do feel a bit of a hypocrite here – I am on Facebook constantly and I blog, and we are being told constantly that these are excellent marketing tools. However, when it comes to the legal system and our professional obligations, we should take time to consider the possible effects of our actions before sending our missives out into the virtual world.
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