Social Media – Time for New Legislation?

Written 8th June 2016 by Olliers Solicitors

How many times in the heat of the moment or whilst in drink have we said something we regret? There will be many people reading this who can identify with this feeling, I’m sure, with degrees of embarrassment or regret.  Friends and family will forgive, chance remarks are forgotten,  but once these remarks are made through the medium of social media they can never be forgiven and less likely to be forgotten.

Offensive Facebook Comments

Just ask Accrington’s infamous drug dealing brothers, Daniel and Samuel Sledden. Having pleaded guilty to supplying cannabis and the learned Judge accepting their remorse as genuine, suspended the inevitable custodial sentence. So far so good. Overjoyed at their good fortune, rather than celebrating with friends or reflecting on the error of the ways, they took to Facebook to brag and just for good measure added a few sexually offensive comments about the Judge.

Judge Beverley Lunt hauled them back to court and substituted the suspended sentence for a custodial one. The Sledden’s lawyers appealed, no doubt arguing that their comments post-sentence should not affect the punishment for the crime. They were sentenced for being drug dealers, not for being sexist, stupid or arrogant. The Court of Appeal disagreed and upheld the immediate custodial term stating that the Judge had been misled as to the remorse their counsel expressed on their behalf.

‘Swapping Champagne for Porridge’

Although this case made local headlines, this is one of a number of incidents of a  similar vein. Ben Scott from Cornwall avoided prison after kicking a Royal Marine in the head. He posted a picture of himself drinking champagne alongside the sentiment ‘that scum can stay on the bottom of my shoe where he belongs’. This lack of remorse and gloating caused the Judge to turn a suspended sentence into an immediate one. He ‘swapped champagne for porridge’ was the headline.

These cases raise a number of issues. Surely the Judge’s role is to sentence for the offence, the defendant has admitted or been found guilty of. Not their reaction to the sentence. To do anything else would be contrary to natural justice…and where do you draw the line? What degree of gloating or boasting is considered extreme enough to warrant a re-sentence? Would it be different if rather than a post on social media he made equally disrespectful comments to ‘friends’ who then reported this to the police?  Is the offence more serious because it is on the internet rather than word of mouth?  The sentiment is the same.

Bringing the Justice System into Disrepute

The answer has to be this. A new offence of ‘bringing the justice system into disrepute’. Aggravating features could be the audience to which the comments are made to and the nature of the comments such as the sexual comments made by one of the Sledden brothers.

Regardless of a new law, the advice has to be no matter how happy or unhappy you are with a court decision, don’t just think twice or even three times….just don’t post your thoughts. They will stay there forever, to be viewed by everyone, even and especially the object of your derision and when the object of your scorn has the power to deprive you of your liberty….enough said.

Max Saffman – Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyer

Written by Max Saffman. Max is a Higher Court Advocate and specialises in the defence of serious crime with in excess of 20 years of experience of the full spectrum of criminal defence work. 

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