New guidelines to target use of social media in court

The Minister for Justice has said he is currently reviewing contempt of court laws in relation to social media

New guidelines to target use of social media in court

The Chief Justice Susan Denham, 25-07-2017. Image: Gail Conway

The Minister for Justice has backed plans to review guidelines surrounding the use of social media in connection with ongoing court cases. 

Speaking this afternoon, Minister Charles Flanagan said he is currently reviewing laws on civil and criminal contempt in relation to social media. 

The issue has come to the fore in recent weeks following concerns over the use of Twitter during the Jobstown trial

He said he is looking forward to engaging with the Courts Services on the issue, “in order to ensure any recommendations that will be forthcoming will be acted upon.” 

“I am reviewing the law at the moment in that area because I believe it is important that the law keeps pace with advances in technology and that we ensure that everybody is entitled on all occasions to a free and fair trial without outside influences,” he said.

Discussion paper

His comments come after the outgoing Chief Justice Susan Denham said she will write to the presidents of each of Ireland’s courts to open up a discussion on the issue. 

Mrs Justice Denham said that while the fundamental right to a fair trial does not change in the face of any new means of communication – new guidelines could be introduced to govern the use of social media in court settings. 

She announced the plans this morning as she launched the 2016 Annual Report of the Courts Service. 

“To date, it has been rare that courts in Ireland have had to use contempt of court laws to curb inaccurate and disruptive online communications about cases,” she said. 

“It would be naive of us not to plan for the future in this regard,” she said. “The fundamental right to a fair trial does not change in the face of any new means of communication. 

“Rules can and must reflect the new reality.” 

In addition to writing to the court presidents the Courts Service will engage with the media and the legal profession to consider how any guidelines might be introduced. 

2016 Annual Report of the Courts Service. 

The annual report showed that 750,000 matters came before the courts in 2016. 

They include almost 22,000 personal injury claims - which is an increase of 15%. 

Nearly 8,000 Drink Driving orders were issued in 2016 - up 8% on 2015.