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Man Charged With Revealing Identity Of Alleged Rape Trial Victim

Commenting on this Belfast News story, Olivia O’Kane, partner at Carson McDowell said

“Contempt of court is the area of law which deals with behaviour which might affect court proceedings. It takes many different forms, ranging from disrupting court hearings to disobeying court orders to publishing prejudicial information which might make the trial unfair or cause delay to the trial process.

“Complainants in rape and other sex crime cases are entitled to life-long anonymity. Any person who reveals the identity of those complainants does so unlawfully and is interfering with the administration of justice for which they could be prosecuted for a contempt of court. The courts have relatively wide powers in considering the seriousness of any contempt of court and the sentences vary from small fines to serving prison sentences with a maximum of two years.

“The creation of the internet has brought about a huge change in the way in which people communicate.

“The rise of social media use has in fact increased the number of contempt prosecutions. For example, it is less likely that a person will burst into a public court room and shout out to the public gallery the name of a person who is protected in law from being identified. Key board warriors sitting in the privacy of their own homes do not necessarily understand the gravity of breaching the law online and might be more likely to commit a contempt of court on social media.

“In recent years, there has been a rise of judicial warnings to the public about their use of social media during criminal trials. There has also be a rise of criminal prosecutions for contempt arising as a direct result of unlawful social media use. Examples have involved unlawful identification of complainants in sexual offences cases, communicating with jurors about their jury service or jurors researching information about an accused on the internet in breach of judicial directions.

“The rise of social media has meant that conversations about criminal cases, are no longer confined to the dinner table, but can be instantly published online and shared with thousands of other social media users. In spite of this, the law applies equally to the internet in the same way as it does anywhere else.

“Until the public fully understand that they remain accountable online in exactly the same way as they are accountable in law offline, prosecution cases involving social media use and contempt prosecutions will continue to rise. Unfortunately, prosecutions for contempt of court arising out of social media use during criminal trials is not that rare. Before commenting on the internet about any court case or on the legal implications of social media generally we would suggest that you seek legal advice.”

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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1st August 2018 14:19