LONDON (Reuters) - People using short messaging service Twitter to deliberately breach gagging orders could face prosecution, the government’s senior legal adviser said.
Since the introduction in 1998 of human rights legislation enshrining individuals’ right to privacy, a number of celebrities have sought injunctions in British courts to prevent media organisations publishing details about their private lives.
Bloggers and Twitter users have used the relative anonymity afforded by the internet to breach these orders, while politicians have used the right to speak freely in parliament without fear of prosecution to name some high-profile figures — such as footballer Ryan Giggs — who have obtained them.
Attorney General Dominic Grieve told BBC Radio that enforcing orders made in civil cases was normally a matter for whoever had taken them out.
However, asked if he should bring contempt proceedings himself for breach of a privacy order, Grieve said he would take action if he thought it necessary.
“If you’re a tweeter and you’re susceptible to the jurisdiction of our national courts in England and Wales it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that you may find yourself being brought into court for contempt,” Grieve told BBC’s Law in Action programme, broadcast on Tuesday.
“And the fact that you’re doing it on Twitter doesn’t give you some blanket exemption,” he said.
The BBC said the attorney general made it clear proceedings could be brought against individual Twitter users, as well as against newspapers that dropped heavy hints about the identity of a person protected by an injunction.
A Twitter user posted details last month of six instances of what they said were injunctions obtained by television and sports stars to cover up affairs or prevent the publication of revealing photographs.
Last month South Tyneside Council in northern England said it had gone to court in the United States to force Twitter to release the identity of a Twitter user behind allegedly libellous statements.
Reporting by Jodie Ginsberg; editing by Keith Weir