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Social media users warned over Conservative fraud charge posts

5th June 2017

Social media law

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has warned the public to be aware of commenting on social media in the wake of the Conservative party fraud charge scandal. Conservative candidate for South Thanet, Craig Mackinley, was charged over alleged overspending in the 2015 general election on Friday, June 2. In the official statement from the CPS, Nick Vamos, CPS Head of Special Crime said: “Criminal proceedings have now commenced and it is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.

Since the announcement, politicians, reporters and members of the public have shared the news, which was revealed just a week away from the general election. Legal blogger The Secret Barrister took to Twitter to warn social media users: “Obligatory legal warning that will be ignored – If you have a hot take on this subject, keep it to yourself. Contempt of court can = prison.”

In the CPS statement, Vamos added: “On 18 April we received a file of evidence from Kent Police concerning allegations relating to Conservative Party expenditure during the 2015 General Election campaign. We then asked for additional enquiries to be made in advance of the 11 June statutory time limit by when any charges needed to be authorised.

“Those enquiries have now been completed and we have considered the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. We have concluded there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to authorise charges against three people.”

The three people are Craig Mackinley, Conservative party candidate, Nathan Grey, who was an election agent at the 2015 UK general election, and Marion Little, who worked on the Conservative campaign.

In the UK, those in legal jobs have attempted to inform the public on how to avoid posting comments on social media which may be prosecuted as contempt of court. In 2013, then attorney general Dominic Grieve shared warnings to prevent those without legal training from inadvertently publishing remarks that could have legal repercussions. In an article by The Guardian, Grieve said: “Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post.

“In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media.

“This is not about telling people what they can or cannot talk about on social media; quite the opposite in fact - it’s designed to help facilitate commentary in a lawful way.”