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Social media: Attorney general to publish guidance to avoid contempt of court proceedings

The attorney general, Dominic Grieve QC, the Government's leading lawyer, has announced plans to publish guidance for users of social media on how to avoid making comments online that could place them in contempt of court, reports the BBC.

The announcement of guidance comes a week after a celebrity was forced to delete a 'tweet' and issue an apology after breaching the lifetime anonymity afforded to victims of sexual abuse.

In a similar incident last year, several Twitter users were fined after naming a woman who was raped by a footballer, again breaching anonymity for a victim of a sex crime.

Contempt of court

Peaches Geldof, daughter of musician Bob Geldof, was the celebrity most recently in the news for being in contempt of court on a social media site.

Geldof was responding to the shocking case of the former frontman for band 'Lost Prophets', Ian Watkins, who last week pleaded guilty to a string of child sex offences.

In a case described by police officers as the 'most shocking' child abuse case many had ever seen, Watkins admitted conspiring with the mothers of two babies to sexually abuse their children in hotel rooms in London and Cardiff.

Enraged by the incident, and armed with the names of the mothers from an American website, Geldof went on to publish their identities to her more than 150,000 followers on the social media site, Twitter.

Apology

The attorney general's office quickly responded by using their own Twitter account to remind social media users that victims of sex offences are granted lifetime anonymity and that publication of information that could lead to their identification is a criminal offence that would lead to police involvement.

Geldof is thought to have breached the lifetime anonymity, not necessarily of the mothers who also face charges relating to the offence, but by the possibility of allowing the identification of the babies involved in the case.

After learning that her actions could have constituted a contempt of court, Geldof was quick to delete the tweets and issue an apology.

"I deleted my tweets, however, and apologise for any offence caused, as at the time of tweeting had only seen everyone tweeting the names at me so had assumed as they were also up on news websites and the crown courts public file that they had been released for public knowledge," she said.

"Will check my facts before tweeting next time. Apologies and lesson learned," she added.

The police have stated that social media has been awash with comments regarding the high-profile case, and that the names of the mothers had been widely published by others beside Ms Geldof.

"We are currently in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the matter and will take action if appropriate," said Detective Chief Inspector Peter Doyle of South Wales Police.

The attorney general has said that his office will now publish more widely advice that is often given to media outlets only to allow social media users to remain within the law when commenting on matters that could jeopardise anonymity or ongoing court cases.