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Irish public are to be banned from using social media in courtrooms

by Jennifer McShane
18th Nov 2018

We’ve all read the countless reports of how, social media, has, in some form the ability to impinge on or in some cases drastically affect ongoing court cases. Steps will now be taken to prevent social media being used in court and thus, see that all cases are subjected to as fair a trial as possible.  Live social media updates are set to be banned in the Irish courts for all except “bona fide” journalists and lawyers involved in the case, according to reports this weekend.

Ireland’s Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, made the announcement as he spoke about the difficulties that some use of social media is having on court cases.

He made his remarks as he addressed a seminar of journalists in Dublin.

The new practice direction, effective from November 26th, applies to all courts and is aimed at ensuring a fair trial.

Emphasising this right to a fair trial, the Chief Justice described social media as “all-pervasive in society”, and while recognising the courts “do not operate in isolation” from the world of communications, he said guidelines are needed.

The courts’ concern is “to ensure the integrity of the trial process and maintenance of a fair trial system,” he explained.

“It is clear that there needs to be guidelines regarding the ‘who, when and what’ of using social media in courtrooms,” he said. “From this month on a new Practice Direction – signed by the Presidents of all the Court jurisdictions – will limit the use of court based data messaging and electronic devices, to bona fide members of the press and bona fide lawyers with business in the courts. Both sets of professionals know the limits of what they can report and when.”

“Others in court will be unable to text or message from the courtroom – in any form.”

This new practice direction comes from what the Chief justice described as “widespread and real” concerns about the difficulties some use of social media is having on court cases, some of which includes comment by observers during an ongoing trial, including discussion about whether the accused is innocent or not.

And these concerns don’t just affect the accused; they can affect the victims also. Many will remember the mass amount of discussion on all social channels following the high-profile rape case in Belfast earlier this year, where a man was ultimately sent to jail for naming the victim on social media, despite express instructions that this was not allowed – by anyone – for her protection.

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