Northern Ireland news

Paddy Jackson's lawyers call for crackdown on 'vile' social media commentary during criminal proceedings

  Paddy Jackson outside court after being acquitted of rape and sexual assault. Picture by Hugh Russell
David Young, Press Association

Paddy Jackson's lawyers have called on legal authorities to take robust action to crack down on "vile" social media commentary on criminal proceedings.

Solicitor Joe McVeigh said the rugby rape trial had been accompanied by a "flood of misinformed, misconceived and malicious content".

His call for steps to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system came as the police confirmed they were investigating incidences of the complainant's identity being revealed on social media.

Flanked by Jackson as he commented on the verdict outside Belfast Crown Court, Mr McVeigh said: "On the face of it, this robust assertion of its independence by the jury embodied in these acquittals, for all four men, may suggest that the trial process is in good health.

"That is not the case. Vile commentary expressed on social media going well beyond fair comment has polluted the sphere of public discourse and raised real concerns about the integrity of the trial process.

"To that end we want to thank the learned trial Judge Patricia Smyth for her management of this trial in the face of an onslaught of toxic contempt, particularly on Twitter.

"Several days of this trial were lost due to problems thrown up by the intrusive infection of the process by social media.

"All the lawyers have been distracted by having to man the barriers against the flood of misinformed, misconceived and malicious content on the internet, particularly during the last phase of this trial, and worryingly even at the hands of public servants who should have known better.

"There's no reason to believe that this problem will not worsen. To that end we invite the office of the Lord Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the Public Prosecution Service, to enter into fresh discussions with us to look at more robust mechanisms that can strike an effective balance between everyone's rights, but that properly secure the integrity of our criminal justice system."

Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman said the naming of the complainant on social media breached her entitlement to anonymity.

"Any breach of this entitlement is and will be investigated," she added.


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