QPR midfield captain and serial 'tweeter' Joey Barton looks set to avoid prosecution for contempt of court, despite making comments on the case of footballer John Terry which could have landed him in trouble.
Barton, well known for his outbursts on social networking site, Twitter, made his opinions on the John Terry case known on Friday evening.
The Terry case has received additional media focus in the past week following the FA's decision to rescind the captaincy from the Chelsea centre-back, pending the outcome of his forthcoming trial.
Barton went to Twitter on Friday evening to give his thoughts on the case, which he feels has dragged on for too long. He also made assertions on the guilt of the accused.
It is now thought that the Attorney General, having reviewed the matter, has decided not to bring charges against Mr Barton for contempt. However, the use of social media to comment on pending or ongoing trial cases may well prompt the Ministry of Justice into a swift review of the law. This is particularly pertinent because some on Twitter have millions of followers, and one mistake or bad comment could jeopardise an entire trial.
The current law on contempt of court was enacted in 1981. It places the burden on the publisher of any comment not to cause substantial risk of prejudice to active legal proceedings.
Proceedings are considered active the moment a person is arrested, or a warrant is issued for their arrest. The law was designed with newspapers and broadcasters in mind. However the modern era of social networking now means that websites are merely forums for the editorial of their members.
One could argue that Barton had no knowledge of the law of contempt; however, the offence is one of strict liability. That is that ignorance is no defence.
The whole matter is to be reviewed by the Law Commission, who will begin a study into the issue of contempt by publication on the internet in 2014. However, with a report date of 2016, it is thought that any proposals will come too late to prevent a perversion of justice coming sooner.
The risk is that a major trial may be halted and forced to be recommenced, which would cost the taxpayer millions. This fact is prompting many to call for the Government to think again about how to tackle this problem.
Read more on the story (The Guardian)
What is contempt of court? (FindLaw)
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