Lawyers must challenge changing media

Social media challenging sub judice laws and the right to a fair trail

Defence lawyers must re-evaluate their media strategies during high profile criminal cases in order to ensure due process for their clients, according to a Brisbane public relations and reputation management strategist.
Mercer PR principal Lyall Mercer predicts the new social-media dominated landscape will become more uncontrollable and is already creating an American-style conversation around legal proceedings, despite sub judice laws.
“Each high profile case now is preceded by seemingly endless and often vitriolic social media commentary, making it more difficult for the legal principle of the presumption of innocence to be maintained,” Mercer says.
He says defence lawyers can’t afford to remain silent in the face of such blatant flouting of the due legal process.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that the foundation of a just society is to ensure a fair and untainted trial.
“This not only protects the innocent but ensures that appeal opportunities are not unduly given to the guilty.”
Mercer says defence teams should closely monitor social and general media reports about their cases and not be afraid to speak up to demand people abide by the law or call for offenders to be prosecuted.
“Few could argue with Derryn Hinch’s comments following his recent conviction on contempt charges that similar information was freely available on social media.
“Instead of stoically gliding past the television cameras on the way to court, lawyers could use the opportunity to bring some balance to the situation facing their client and reinforce the message that the law applies to everyone – even people on Twitter with fake names.”
The mainstream media has a part to play as well, he says.
“It’s becoming easier for journalists to be influenced by social media, making it more important for lawyers to place a greater priority on media engagement around their cases.”

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