Tweeters to be offered legal tips to avoid lawsuits

LONDON Wed Dec 4, 2013 5:36pm IST

A person holds a magnifying glass over a computer screen displaying Twitter logos, in this picture illustration taken in Skopje September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/Files

A person holds a magnifying glass over a computer screen displaying Twitter logos, in this picture illustration taken in Skopje September 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - The government's chief legal adviser said on Wednesday he plans to offer guidelines to social media users to help them avoid breaking Britain's laws on contempt when posting comments about court cases.

The guidelines, which will be posted on a case-by-case basis, aim to avoid a repeat of several high-profile incidents this year where Tweeters have fallen foul of the law.

"Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post," said Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

"This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system," he added in a statement.

Last week, judges handed a 14-month suspended prison sentence to a man who flouted court directions by posting pictures purporting to be of Jon Venables, whose murder of the toddler James Bulger in 1993 sparked a public outcry.

In another case, Peaches Geldof, daughter of Band Aid founder Bob, apologised last week for tweeting the names of the two mothers whose babies she said were abused by rock star Ian Watkins. Police are investigating the tweets over concerns that they identified protected parties.

"This is not about telling people what they can or cannot talk about on social media; quite the opposite in fact, it's designed to help facilitate commentary in a lawful way," said Grieve.

Contempt of court is defined as an interference with the course of justice, such as the naming of victims who have been granted anonymity.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General Office (AGO) told Reuters that the guidelines were to inform the public rather than increase prosecutions.

"It isn't about a push for prosecutions: he (Grieve) would rather not. It's about education and stopping it getting to the point where it might be endangering a trial," the spokesperson said.

The guidelines will be posted on the AGO section of .gov.uk and on the department's Twitter feed, @AGO_UK.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

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