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Tweets are becoming a big problem for Irish judges

Chief Justice: Once false information is out, there is “no putting the genie back into the bottle”.

Chief Justice Susan Denham
Chief Justice Susan Denham
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Archive/Press Association Images

CHIEF JUSTICE SUSAN Denham has said that trying to regulate information about court cases that appears on social media is becoming one of the court system’s biggest challenges.

Speaking yesterday at a National Union of Journalists (NUJ) seminar on media freedom, Denham said there has been a fundamental change now in how the public receive information, telling those attending the seminar that “in most cases it is no longer on a sheet of dead tree”.

“The first and most obvious problem for us is in the area of a free trial,” she said. “Social media can turn up a plethora of information – accurate or inaccurate, libellous or complimentary – on jurors, witnesses, defendants, counsel and judges.”

Judges in Ireland, like in other countries, have now begun giving guidance to jurors about use of social media during a trial. However Denham said problems arise with the nature of sites like Twitter, as a tweet which has been ruled inadmissible and which the jury has been told to ignore, is already out there and can spread rapidly.

“Whether it is correct or incorrect information – once something is ‘out there’ via social media it remains so for ever,” she commented. “There is no putting the genie back into the bottle.”

However the Chief Justice also acknowledged the usefulness of social media for some courts around the world who use it as a way of communicating their own information.

“Surveys in the US on this issue also found a need for education for courts in how to use social media and its potential to assist public understanding of courts, but also the need to be aware of the effects the same tools of communication might have on the process,” she said. “The balance is between the need for open courts and maintaining fair trials.”

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