Twitter, Facebook, Google and their users have again been the subject of legal controversy surrounding the posting of pictures purporting to be the killers of James Bulger.
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were released in 2001 with new identities to protect them from coming under attack from an outraged public. The severity of the case and the public opinion of the two killers were such that the justice system and police feared for the safety of the two killers upon release.
However, earlier this month, pictures purporting to be those of the killers were being posted online by Facebook and Twitter users and were available via Google searches. This obviously compromised the safety of the killers who were given new identities to protect them from a public backlash and physical attacks.
Following the potential security risk to Venables and Thompson, an injunction was obtained and was served on Facebook, Twitter and Google by the police. The injunction prevents publication of any images or information purporting to identify the killers. This means that even if the picture isn’t of either of the killers but claims to be one of them, it is still a breach of the injunction because it has the potential to place innocent members of the public in danger if they are wrongly identified as Venables or Thompson.
Any potential breach of the injunction by individuals on social media sites could lead to proceedings against them for contempt. Simply speaking, contempt is where somebody disobeys the court’s authority. In the present case and following the injunction, it would be disobeying the court’s authority to publish purported pictures of Venables or Thompson and could result in a fine or even prison for the person publishing the picture or any information relating to Venables or Thompson. It is a very serious offence, but not one people are often aware of as many people do not see how they can be committing a crime by posting something on the internet. However, the last year has seen a significant acknowledgement that online legal infringement is a real problem that can and will be enforced! This matter again highlights the challenges of the new digital age and the relationship it has with the law. Is the digital age and internet undermining the use of injunctions and the law as a whole? This is certainly not an isolated issue (see our earlier blog on the effect the internet and smartphones have had on trial by jury) and it certainly won’t be the last!
All information is correct on the date of posting.