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Social media comments prevent defendants from having a fair trial

Ex parte BBC and others [2016] EWCA Crim 12

The BBC together with nine other media organisations appealed against Mr Justice Globe’s reporting restriction on the trial of two teenage girls accused of murdering Angela Wrightson.

The background to the case was that on 8th December 2014 the body of Angela Wrightson was discovered in her living room by her landlord.  She had been murdered following a sustained and brutal assault.  The following day two teenage girls were arrested and charged with murder and both defendants pleaded not guilty. 

As a result of the crime, over 500 comments had been posted on the facebook links to various newspaper reports of the trial.  They were either threatening to the accused, derisive of their not guilty pleas or dismissive of the court process.  Mr Justice Globe decided that the defendants could not have a fair hearing so he discharged the jury and ordered a retrial for the following year.  He ordered the media to remove the comments, links and to refrain from issuing or forwarding tweets relating to the trial.  In order to comply with the Order the media organisations argued that they would not be able to publish anything at all.

The media organisations appealed and while the Court of Appeal granted the appeal it attached a series of conditions. This meant that the media could report the trial, but could not report it on social media or permit comments from members of the public.  The legal challenge itself could not be reported until the verdicts were returned.

Lord Justice Leveson stated that the case, ‘for the first time, raises the issue of how critical fair trial protections can be extended to prevent or control communications on social media.’

Read BBC News article here.

Criminal Law, ECHR Art. 6, Media, Right to Fair Trial