Calls for Priti Patel to be referred to the Attorney General for contempt of court after she called suspect a ‘vile people smuggler’ in tweet about his arrest – months after nearly causing another trial to collapse
- Priti Patel’s account labelled a man being arrested as a ‘vile people smuggler’
- Account shared video showing a man being detained by National Crime Agency
- Media commentator David Banks suggested Attorney General should look at it
- It comes after Ms Patel was criticised after tweeting during an ongoing trial
Priti Patel last night risked the ire of the Attorney General after her Twitter account labelled a man being arrested in a video as a ‘vile people smuggler’.
The Home Secretary’s account shared a video on her Twitter account of officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) detaining an unidentified man in Birmingham.
The post said: ‘Excellent work by the NCA in Birmingham arresting another vile people smuggler.
‘A suspected high-ranking member of a Vietnamese network trading in human lives via the backs of lorries.’
But media commentators last night suggested the tweet could be putting any future trial at risk.
One commentator, David Banks, even copied in the Twitter account of the Attorney General – who has the power to take legal action against those who breach strict rules around the reporting of criminal cases.
He suggested Attorney General Suella Braverman MP have ‘a quiet word’ with the Home Secretary about contempt of court – the law that attempts to protect trials from unfair influence.
Priti Patel (pictured) last night risked the ire of the Attorney General after her Twitter account labelled a man being arrested in a video as a ‘vile people smuggler’
The Home Secretary shared a video on her Twitter account of officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) detaining an unidentified man in Birmingham
Posting the video, she wrote: ‘Excellent work by the NCA in Birmingham arresting another vile people smuggler
But media commentators – such as David Banks – last night suggested the Tweet could be putting any future trial at risk
What is contempt of court?
Contempt of court happens when someone risks unfairly influencing a court case.
An incident of contempt may stop somebody from getting a fair trial or influence the trial’s outcome.
This can be through actions in court, including by jury members themselves.
But for media outlets it usually refers to reporting before and during a trial.
This is why reports often refer to an ‘alleged’ criminal or an ‘alleged’ incident prior to and during a court case.
Defence barristers can attempt to get a case thrown out if they believe a jury has been influenced by outside pressures, such as media reporting.
The contempt of court period begins at the point police make an arrest.
In cases of contempt of court, it is up to the attorney general to decide if they believe an offence has been committed.
The attorney general is a political role within the Cabinet and the primary job is to advise the Government on legal matters.
Because of this, the attorney general usually has prior legal experience.
The current attorney general – Suella Braverman MP – is a trained barrister.
Mr Banks, who runs a media law consultancy, said: ‘Perhaps the Attorney General could lean across the Cabinet table and have a quiet word about contempt of court?
‘He’s not a vile people smuggler unless and until a jury decide he is. If the Home Secretary can’t abide by the law, why should anyone else?
‘Far be it from me to tell the Priti Patel her job, but statements like this hand ammunition to defence counsel who could, quite reasonably, argue their client cannot possibly have a fair trial having been declared a vile people smuggler by no less than the Home Secretary.
‘Of course, it might not be the Home Sec herself that tapped out that tweet, it might be a hapless minion, in which case send them on a law course.
‘If only there were someone who ran such courses to prevent the Home Secretary collapsing trials…’
It’s not the first time Ms Patel has caused a legal storm with a tweet about a criminal investigation.
She was criticised over what was described as an ‘ill-advised’ Tweet about the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a lorry in Essex while the trial was on going.
On October 23 last year, the anniversary of the tragedy, Priti Patel’s Twitter account posted: ‘One year ago today, 39 people lost their lives in horrific circumstances at the hands of ruthless criminals.
‘My thoughts remain with everyone who was affected by that day, particularly the loved ones of the people who so tragically died.’
Two members of a people-smuggling ring were found guilty of the manslaughter of the men, women and children.
But after the trial ended it was revealed that the judge in the case had to tell jury members to ignore comments made by ‘politicians’ on social media.
Ms Patel was previously criticised over what was described as an ‘ill-advised’ Tweet about the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a lorry in Essex (pictured: Police at the scene) while the trial was on going
Asked if she accepted she had made a mistake to comment while the trial was ongoing, Ms Patel told BBC Breakfast in December last year: ‘We were asked to remove that tweet, so we did the right thing and absolutely removed that tweet.’
She added: ‘I didn’t personally write it, but I issued the tweet. Some of my tweets are written for me, and in that instance that was drafted for me … It was drawn to my attention at the time that obviously the case was ongoing and therefore the tweet should be removed.’
Ms Patel also suggested the tweet was in reference to those who had already entered guilty please to a serious of charges in relation to the deaths, rather than those who were on trial.
Asked if the decision to remove the tweet came after a warning by the judge, she said: ‘I can’t remember – we had been formally asked to remove it and that’s effectively what happened.’