Over the last twenty-four hours, I've noticed an explosion in the number of barrack room lawyers across the local weblogs, those quite clearly unable or even unwilling, to distinguish between civil and criminal law; particularly where social media and web-related content is involved.
As much as I try and explain the finer principles of the law and why national newspapers, such as The Guardian might take an interest, then many of the usual suspects wander off on subjects such as Tesco, gun ranges and even better, that local Tory councillors drive Bentleys. Naturally these support the inescapable logic of their argument, that there is more to the story than I am prepared to write.
But that would make no sense as the papers would soon sniff-out any fibs, so it must remain a puzzle to some.
Criminal Law is something far more serious, involves a prosecution rather than civil action and requires a much higher burden of proof to present before a court.
As an example, a conspiracy in public life, a serious offense would require a solid audit trail of proof linking the alleged conspirators; documents, remarks, comments, emails etc among the evidence. Proof beyond any reasonable doubt would have to be presented to the court, along with motive, opportunity and ability, if you happen to be a fan of detective Columbo.
Presently, what has attracted the interest of the media is actually very simple, although I see elsewhere that some people have been distracted by speculation that has absolutely nothing to do with the story itself.
What interests the journalists, other than another town Tesco squabble, is whether the police commissioner has acted outside her remit, in resurrecting a complaint that the police originally chose not to pursue and how can one councillor 'Liking' the Facebook comment of another, form part of the evidence chain presented in support of an allegation of conspiracy?
Presently, what we have seen to date, makes no rational sense to the journalists - even today's Independent - and to the three of us on the receiving end of a complaint on the evidence presented. The police don't appear to know either and to be frank, have been quite apologetic but feel under pressure from elsewhere. So they have simply passed the matter up to their own legal advisors to make some sense of it all and make a recommendation on what they should do next.
|"So he 'Liked' a comment on Facebook?"|
That's it all in a nutshell really. The other characters involved are not really relevant to the questions I'm asking because its the law I'm testing and every active blogger should sit-up and pay attention because the conclusion is absolutely relevant to what they allow, by way of comment on their own weblogs or Facebook pages.
Footnote: Meanwhile, this evening, the local paper, The Thanet Gazette has now waded into the debate by publishing it's own account and taking the extraordinary step, of offering an apparent 'opinion' on the nature of the comments on this weblog.
"The comments made reference to Ms Oldfield’s B+B business and her roots in the North of England among other insults as well as claiming that Thanet council was spending money defending Ms Oldfield’s legal challenges."
"Insults' is a highly emotive term and is presented as an opinion on the evidence by the paper. Nobody, national press or police, has described any of the remarks here on ThanetLife as being anything other than comments. The press exists to report and press standards are considerably higher than blog standards. By expressing an opinion on an active criminal investigation, it could be interpreted that the Thanet Gazette is acting in a partial and prejudicial manner and I have sent the editor an email asking for her explanation.
(Update - the Editor has corrected the story after I contacted the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) earlier today. I have also politely requested an explanatory short retraction statement on the advice of the PCC.)