Prejudicial Investigations: Trial by Social Media

As private investigators, we strive to keep abreast of developing technology. Over the last decade or so, we have witnessed significant changes in the way the internet affects our investigations. The increasing prevalence of social media in our lives has undoubtedly impacted on our work as private investigators.

In many cases, it can be a useful tool, enabling us to trace a person’s movements, build a picture of their family and friends, give an insight into their recreational and work activities, and so on.

Social media also allows users to react instantly to situations, and opinions can be shared on a scale we have never seen before.

The downside of this is the effect it can have on our legal system. Part of our private investigation work involves us gathering evidence for criminal cases, and working closely with barristers and solicitors. We are constantly mindful of the fact that any investigations we carry out must not be prejudicial to a trial.

The recent case of the Angela Wrightson murder trial illustrates how social media can potentially adversely affect trial proceedings. In this case, the judge halted the trial on the grounds that there had been so much coverage on social media, with inflammatory comments on Facebook and Twitter about both defendants, that the right to a fair trial could no longer be guaranteed. He then went one step further and ordered a media blackout on any coverage of the trial.

Needless to say, this was appealed by the major UK broadcasters and written press. Eventually a second trial took place, but the media were not allowed to report on it until a verdict had been reached.

At Anderson Chance, and in the work we do as professional private investigators, we believe that everyone has the right to a fair trial. We also believe in the freedom of the press. And we welcome the advent of social media as a way of sharing opinions. But it seems to us that the law needs to adapt to the constantly changing technological landscape. There are already laws and rules in place governing what can and cannot be said on social media, and perhaps these need to be looked at more closely or enforced more effectively. A blanket ban on reporting what is said on social media seems a somewhat draconian solution to an undoubtedly complex problem.

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