Belfast Telegraph

'Hammer of law' should come down on those who misuse social media during trials: retired judge

Retired Appeal Court judge Sir John Gillen (PA)
Retired Appeal Court judge Sir John Gillen (PA)

The use of social media is having a detrimental effect on sexual offence trials in Northern Ireland, a retired judge has said.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Law in Action programme, retired Appeal Court judge Sir John Gillen was discussing the progress of a nine-month inquiry he is leading into how sexual offences are dealt with in Northern Ireland's justice system.

One suggestion made by Sir John was for the public to be excluded from court on the grounds the complainant's name was often "bandied about on social media", meaning their anonymity was not protected.

“Anonymity of the complainant is now a figment of our imagination," he said.

Currently almost all trials in Northern Ireland are open to the public.

It was also recommended that jurors who misuse social media during trials are dealt with appropriately.

"The hammer of the law should come down on those who indulge in misconduct," he said.

Sir John said despite only being six weeks into the inquiry, he was "certain about" three things.

"The first is this: the pathway from complaint to trial is too long," he said.

"Secondly the trial process itself is unacceptably daunting. Thirdly we as a society, and that includes judges and legal professionals, and juries, need to reassess our whole approach to the trauma of serious sexual offences.

"The advent of social media is a vital factor in all three of those aspects."

The inquiry comes after the high profile trial of Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding who were cleared of rape. 

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