Will the meager £624 fine for naming rape victim on Twitter set a precedent for future cases? Media lawyer John Haggis explains
This week nine people were found guilty of naming the victim involved in the Ched Evans rape case on Twitter and Facebook, as magistrates heard how the victim was accused of "crying rape" and "money-grabbing" on the social networks.
However, the nine who pleaded guilty were each told to pay only £624 to the victim, which stirred controversy in the press and public alike. Why so little when, for the press, the maximum fine for naming a victim is £5,000? Is it simply a case of the defendants have fewer readers, therefore they will pay a lesser fine?
We spoke to digital media and technology lawyer John Haggis to find out if this fine will set a precedent for cases such as these in the future.
“The decision of the judge to set the value at £624 is at his/her discretion and based on the facts that are available in this particular case.
For example, each of the individuals in this instance apologised for their crime which may have had an impact on the judge’s decision to set the fine at the lower end of the scale.”
Harris added that it is worth considering whether the amount of fine in this instance was based on the likely income of the individuals. He said: “Although £624 is not the highest the court could have set the fine at, it may have been decided that this amount is proportionate to the assets of the defendants and therefore a meaningful penalty for them to pay.”
Harris went on to explain that the most severe level of fine (£5,000) should be used for 'those who should know better' in the mainstream media and should be aware of this law.
“Whilst the relatively low amount of the fine has angered many people given the serious nature of the crime, it is worth understanding that given the court's powers are limited, it has to consider not only the circumstances of the individuals but also future fines where it would not want to set a precedent of equating the actions of a mindless individual on social media with the actions of the mainstream press where arguably the impact of the naming the victim could be greater in that the mainstream press are seen as reporting firm facts, as opposed to social media perhaps being a hotbed of unsubstantiated gossip.”
Harris concluded that for the future it will be interesting to see if the CPS, as part of its overview of the legal system's ability to regulate social media, will also look into the current penalties available to the courts and recommend a greater scope in fines.