Social networking sites are now part of our daily lives, but people need to be aware that what they post online can land them in trouble, particularly when connected to court cases. <em>*MCT photo</em>
Social networking sites are now part of our daily lives, but people need to be aware that what they post online can land them in trouble, particularly when connected to court cases. *MCT photo

FRIDAY, FEB. 17: Lawyers, judges and jurors need to be more aware of the risks of social networking, a former Bermuda Bar Council president said yesterday.

And barrister Trevor Moniz backed the results of an International Bar Association survey which called for juries to have cautions over social networking included in the standard directions by judges.

Mr Moniz said: “The principles that apply are the normal ones of legal professional and judicial probity and integrity.”

He added that the barristers’ professional conduct code already spelled out rules on bringing the profession into disrepute or prejudicing justice, and lawyers could be held in contempt of court by a judge if found to have breached the code.

Misconduct

He said: “A problem with juries is that presently jury members receive no training, only instructions during the trial by the judge and there is obviously a learning curve, as in all things.

“Thus they must be given direction on publishing of comments and/or opinions.”

He added: “Often people mistakenly view comments on the Internet as private when they are often public or at least very widely and inappropriately disseminated.

“Often you have the double problem of comments which are in themselves inappropriate and then made worse by being inappropriately published.”

In 2009, Crown prosecutor Takiyah Burgess was fined $1,000 and admonished by the Bar Council after she posted comments on the social networking website Facebook about a murder trial in which she was involved.

Mr Moniz, also an OBA MP and Shadow Attorney General, said: “For judges the challenge is to oversee them as there is no Judicial Service Commission.

“There is no one to really go to where some misconduct is suspected, as in some dismissal of charges in certain criminal cases where there is currently no prosecution right of appeal.

“We in the OBA support changes but the Government continues for inexplicable reasons to oppose progress in this area.

“A Judicial Services Commission would not only oversee the appointment of judges, but also the effectiveness and behaviour of judges.”

Bermuda Bar Council president Delroy Duncan did not return calls from the Bermuda Sun, and Attorney General and Minister of Justice Kim Wilson could not be contacted for comment.

The London-based International Bar Association (IBA) surveyed lawyers’ professional bodies in a total of 47 jurisdictions, including England & Wales, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands, as well as in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Unacceptable

Based on answers to 31 questions, the IBA said: “As technology rapidly evolves, the key question is whether the legal profession can keep pace with such developments and, in doing so, what safeguards or controls are needed to ensure that ethical and professional standards are maintained.” More than 90 per cent of lawyers said it was “unacceptable” for lawyers or judges to post comments or opinions about colleagues, parties involved in court cases or comment on live cases online.

Nearly 95 per cent from areas that use jury trials said jurors should not post “comments or opinions about the judges, lawyers, parties and/or cases which they are observing on online social networking sites”.

And more than 90 per cent said that legal bodies needed to draw up guidelines to address the use of social networking by the legal profession.

A spokeswoman for the organization added that IBA advisory group would be set up to examine the issue.