PEOPLE using social media to “name and shame” an accused man as a show of support for an 11-year-old alleged child sex victim in Newcastle could complicate a possible future trial, lawyers have warned.
People also risked prosecution for making some social media posts.
Further posts about the man or descriptions of him as guilty risked a possible trial being moved from Newcastle to another area, said criminal law specialist Manny Conditsis.
Protracted and extreme social media commentary also risked an application from the man’s lawyer for a permanent end to proceedings because he couldn’t get a fair trial, Mr Conditsis said.
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“That’s a very extreme scenario and highly unlikely to happen but the accused’s lawyer could apply for it,” Mr Conditsis said.
Social media posts in the past 24 hours have carried photos and named the man charged by police with abducting the girl on June 12 on her way to school and sexually assaulting her over a number of hours.
Many of the posts were written and shared after a court registrar made a non-publication order on Sunday prohibiting publication of information that would identify him.
The order was made after his defence lawyer argued identifying him could threaten his safety while in custody. The order was opposed by prosecutors and the media and remains in place until he appears in court on Wednesday.
Mr Conditsis said people who continued to identify the man on social media despite the order risked prosecution themselves.
“Contempt of court applies to everybody, therefore anything that is said or done leading to the identification of this person is a contempt of court, with a potential jail sentence,” he said.
People posting and sharing social media commentary after people are charged also risked identifying the wrong person, with potentially “horrendous” consequences, Mr Conditsis said.
Australian National University college of law Professor Mark Nolan said people who said they were supporting victims of crime when they made social media “name and shame” posts needed to consider the possible consequences.
“Are you supporting the complainant if your actions may actually prevent the prosecution from pursuing a jury trial in Newcastle? That’s the paradox of trial by social media,” Professor Nolan said.
People making social media posts risked prosecution, but jurors who carried out internet searches also faced potential prosecution, Professor Nolan said.
At least one jury in a high-profile trial has been dismissed after allegations a juror conducted internet searches.