From top: Jobstown trial aftermath (above); this morning’s Irish Times
Despite the jury in the Jobstown trial returning a unanimous verdict of not guilty against the six men charged with the false imprisonment of former Tánaiste Joan Burton and her assistant Karen O’Connell…
…and the front page coverage of the verdict in The Irish Times this morning which focused on how Solidarity TD Paul Murphy had been warned earlier this week by the DPP in relation to him tweeting about the trial…
And the same newspaper’s editorial saying:
“… the claim by supporters of the defendants that the charges were a politically motivated attempt to stifle protest should be treated with the derision it deserves.”
“… Campaigners produced partisan running commentary on the trial. Activists systematically used social media to criticise and impugn the motives of those who gave evidence.”
“… We were always asking a lot of jurors by expecting that they cloister themselves away for the duration of their service. In the age of Google, Facebook and Twitter, when everyone is a publisher and information is more accessible than ever, that expectation has become increasingly untenable.
But the Jobstown trial highlighted the challenge more sharply. By harnessing social media on such a scale, systematically chipping away at one of the pillars of our jury system, those campaigners have done themselves and their cause a great disservice.”
Meanwhile, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
In an item on the role of social media in the Jobstown trial, journalist Louise Byrne introduced the segment by explaining how, as of last night, 87,000 tweets have been tweeted using the hashtag #jobstownnotguilty – 12,000 of which were sent in the previous 24 hours.
Later, broadcaster Audrey Carville spoke to Eoin O’Dell, associate professor at the School of Law in Trinity College Dublin about the matter.
Audrey Carville: “Many aspects to this but, first of all, the risk that the defendants raise by tweeting or commenting during the trial, are they numerous?”
Eoin O’Dell: “Well, there are at least two. The first one is that the tweeting from the court itself, whatever the content of the tweets, can be contempt. You’re not allowed broadcast from the courts as you know. And although there is a lot of toleration of electronic devices for various reasons, just taking notes and so on, the tweeting itself is the same as a direct broadcast and therefore that can be a contempt of court. And then there is the content of the tweets.
“In the same way that any broadcaster who has broadcast prejudges or prejudices the trial, that can be contempt aswell. And so, Paul Murphy tweeting from the court and tweeting things that could have the potential to prejudge or prejudice. Now the judge and the DPP were accommodating here and Paul Murphy deleted the tweets but at the same time, those were the two potential things that he could have run into.”
Carville: “Yes, because the judge is understood to have said that if Paul Murphy had been advised of the potential consequences of engaging in these sorts of tweets at this point in the trial, that she would say no more about it. As you say, and we all know it, who work in the traditional media – television, radio, newspapers – when there’s a trial under way you broadcast or report nothing that could prejudice that trial. But social media has no such rules, does it?”
O’Dell: “No, that’s not true. The general rules of contempt of court apply to everybody. There are additional rules for broadcasters, there are additional rules for newspapers but the basic rules on contempt apply to everybody and therefore whether it’s a broadcast contempt, whether it is an online contempt, whether it is just simply a contempt in the course of a conversation, the contempt rules apply.”
Carville: “But are they ever enforced on social media?”
O’Dell: “Well, they’re beginning to be. There was a case, for example, reported in this morning’s [Irish] Examiner where one party to a family court case took a photograph in the court of the other party and published in on Facebook and the judge warned her very severely about it and it came down. In the UK, for example, the second last attorney general said that in future his office could issue warnings related to high-profile trials and they have done so that people on social media have been specifically warned about tweeting and Facebook and so on, in relation to these high-profile trials. And the second last DPP issued a set of instructions around prosecuting these kinds of cases so there is beginning to be a body of understanding around this.”
Carville: “Is there legislation for contempt of court?”
O’Dell: “Not yet. The Law Reform Commission had, in the early 1990s, issued a consultation paper and a report suggesting that there ought to be legislation and it has recently revisited the area, probably to make the same kinds of recommendations that there are some issues around contempt that are unclear and the Law Reform Commission was directed to clarifying those. And I assume that if legislation comes from the current process it would specifically deal with electronic aswell as traditional media.”
Carville: “Do you think that’s a good thing?”
O’Dell: “I think clarity around contempt is a good thing. My worry is that in respect of any speech legislation that has the potential to allow criticism of politicians that the Dail might not be so accommodating.”
Carville: “But, practically, if there was legislation for contempt and you have a very high-profile court case with hundreds of thousands, potentially, of people, tweeting a hashtag, commenting and so on, would it be impracticable to enforce prosecutions on that?”
O’Dell: “Well, certainly a high court judge a couple of years ago said that the DPP doesn’t need to monitor social media but on the other hand, there have been high-profile prosecutions in the UK relating to activity on Twitter and Facebook, no it wouldn’t be at all impracticable. I would put the numbers into context.”
“A hundred thousand tweets over a nine or ten-week trial isn’t a large amount of conversation to be honest. And in the end, it was commentary on the trial that was no more than the traditional commentary on traditional media. So this particular example didn’t cross the line.”
“But if an example did cross the line in the same way as coverage has the potential, in the normal way, to prejudice a trial, I wouldn’t be surprised that the DPP were to prosecute.”
Later in Morning Ireland…
Broadcaster Cathal MacCoille interviewed Solidarity TD Mick Barry and then, later again, Mr MacCoille spoke to former Attorney General and former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.
After the segment with Mr Barry, Mr MacCoille said:
“An interesting point, by the way, about the role of social media during and since the Jobstown trial. You’ll have heard Audrey [Carville] say earlier, when she spoke to Professor Eoin O’Dell about social media and its role and the law in so far is that, realistically applies to social media, Audrey mentioned that we would be talking to other people – Mick Barry obviously and Michael McDowell during the programme. ”
“But people, immediately, on social media were out jumping to the conclusion that we were only going to talk about social media, talking about nothing else. So there are two worlds, social media and the people who are listening to what’s being said on air and paying attention.“
From Mr MacCoille’s interview with Michael McDowell…
McDowell: “It took a very long time for this trial to take place, it was a trial on indictment. Many people might think that this was fundamentally a smallish incident which might have been dealt with under the Public Order Act of 1994 and that if events had been handled differently, it wouldn’t have gone on this long or have this result or been made into such a cause celebrate for these people who were involved in the protest.”
MacCoille: “So, in other words, is it your view, on the basis of what we know now that a public order charge of some kind, heard in the District Court, would have been more appropriate?”
McDowell: “Well, I do believe that the offence of unlawful imprisonment which is the offence which is used to cover kidnappings and the like, being tried on indictment, seemed to me to be disproportionate to all of the events as they were described. And I mean there are offences, for instance, there’s an offence for somebody without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to wilfully prevent or interrupt the free passage of any person or vehicle in a public place – that’s an offence under the Public Order Act.
“There’s provision under that act for Gardai who are present and see that happening to direct people to leave the place and to desist from behaviour and I just wonder, you know, was all this contained and managed in a proper way…it was suggested earlier there by Mick Barry that there were up to 100 gardai present. It seems to me that the matter could have been dealt with differently.”
MacCoille: “Do you mean how it was handled on the day or subsequently or both?”
McDowell: “Well, handled on the day first of all. I think, as a former Tanaiste myself, I would have been very surprised if, when I held that office I could have been kept in my car with a Garda driver for that length of time without a substantial intervention and a proper use of police powers to ensure my departure.”
MacCoille: “The fact that there was such a body of Garda evidence, from so many Garda witnesses and yet, the judge cautioned the jury at the end of the trial, before they went to consider their verdict, to be aware of the contradictions between what some gardai said and the video evidence – talking about the frailties of human memory – and to rely on the video evidence, if there was a conflict. That’s, now, Paul Murphy’s reaction to that and Mick Barry’s too is: we need an inquiry into that, do you agree?”
McDowell: “No we don’t need an inquiry into it but I think that internally, in the gardai, there should be an examination of the manner in which the whole incident was managed and approached and whether the resources they had were used in a sensible way in all the circumstances. I also believe that it could have been dealt with in the District Court, we wouldn’t have had a ten-week trial. I think the fact that there was a ten-week trial, after such a long delay, raises questions about the delay in the Irish criminal justice procedure system which are more widespread than this particular case.”
“But I also have strong misgivings about the use of, effectively, an offence on indictment which carries a life sentence – the sledgehammer to crack this particular nut.”
On Today with Sean O’Rourke, presented by Cormac Ó hEadhra, Mr Ó hEadhra spoke to People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett.
From their interview…
Cormac Ó hEadhra: “You also disagree with multi-national companies and their tax avoidance, you rail against banks, you rail against the media. So, for example, could executives or media people, journalists, be delayed in cars and be slow marched around in the next few months in terms of protest?”
Richard Boyd Barrett: “First of all, I think, again that’s trying to summon up some sort of spectre or danger. The water charges movement was an overwhelming peaceful, family-friendly movement. Of course, occasionally, you get one or two hotheads that do things that they shouldn’t do. But, is it wrong to extrapolate from that that there’s something wrong with protest?”
Cormac Ó hEadhra: “Sorry, you wouldn’t do this again, is that right?”
Boyd Barrett: “The judge made clear in her summing up, and she was quoting from the European Convention on Human Rights that it is entirely appropriate and legitimate protest to be a bit of a nuisance or disrupt things. That’s part and parcel of protest but there’s a big distinction between that and violence. So to be a bit of a nuisance protester, that’s what strikes do, farmers do it all the time, students do it all the time in protest and we couldn’t in anyway seek to limit that type of protest.
“But I think that that was what this trial was all about, it was trying to in some way suggest that our legitimate tactics of protest have an era of criminality or danger or violence around them and I think that was a quite conscious political move against the anti-austerity movement and the anti-water charges movement.”
Listen back to all the interviews from here