Suspended sentence imposed over Facebook post

In the course of a recent hearing at the High Court in London, ‘Shameless’ actress Tina Malone admitted contempt of court having published information on Facebook last year containing details, including images, purporting to relate to one of the 10-year-old boys convicted of the murder of toddler Jamie Bulger in 1993.

That case raised issues as to the age of criminal responsibility, with the legal presumption of doli incapax being rebutted. This Latin maxim presumed that a child under the age of 10 could not form the requisite criminal intent, whereas a child aged 10-14 potentially could. After they were convicted, the Court ordered that the new identities assumed by two on their release could never be reported.  In publishing such information to Facebook, Ms. Malone breached that order and was held to be in contempt of court.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, sitting with Mr Justice Warby, said:

We have concluded that, although the custody threshold is undoubtedly passed in this case, the personal circumstances and mitigation of this defendant are such that we should impose a suspended committal order.

Taking account of everything that we have heard, we order that the defendant be committed to prison for eight months, but we suspend that order for two years

The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland QC MP, speaking after the hearing, said:

The injunction in this case is intended to both protect the identities of the offenders, but also innocent individuals who may be incorrectly identified as them.

Posting this material online is a very serious matter and can result in a prison sentence. I would urge everyone to think carefully about whether their social media posts could breach the order or amount to any other type of contempt of court.

The takeaway here is to think before you post anything on social media.

By Paul Sullivan FRSA

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