Trial warning

NICK Summers, the Leongatha man arrested on child pornography charges, will be able to visit town, but has been banned from living in South Gippsland.

The 20 year old – a junior football, basketball and cricket coach – was arrested recently on blackmail, possession of child pornography and grooming offences. He was bailed (on condition he reside outside South Gippsland and not attend junior sporting events) after a filing hearing in the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court last Wednesday. He will reappear at a committal mention at the same court on Thursday, October 17.

While the arrest has sent shockwaves through the local community, a Slater and Gordon lawyer is urging people not to vent their views online, as negative comments made on social media could prejudice the case.

The lawyer, Tim Finney, believes the good work of the police could be undone if Mr Summers was given a ‘Trial by Google’.

“Posting material online regarding high-profile current and future criminal cases is increasingly recognised as a threat to the fundamental principle of law that an accused has a right to a fair trial,” he warned.

“Where the trial is by jury, access by jurors of information relevant to the case on social media, or otherwise on the internet generally, may bias their verdict. This phenomenon has been referred to in general terms as ‘Trial by Google’.

“Even if the accused has no prior convictions, online comments about other instances of wrongdoing may be prejudicial. More generally, information, or opinions, expressed on social media regarding the case or the accused’s guilt or innocence may influence the jury’s verdict, without the prosecution or the defence each having been given the chance to address the information.”

While The Star has been diligent in checking its website for prejudicial comments, it is asking people to be aware of the potential repercussions.

“Even an opinion to the effect of ‘I reckon he’s guilty’ might prejudice a juror’s verdict, especially if large numbers of social media users express or endorse the same opinion,” Mr Finney said.

“A juror may rely, in whole or in part, on such opinions in forming a verdict position, rather than the evidence which has been presented and tested in court.”

Mr Finney said if there was a strong likelihood that a jury had “accessed prejudicial information during trial, and has delivered a verdict influenced by such prejudicial material, this may lead to aborted trials and new trials and/or appeals against convictions”.

In the past week, sporting clubs and schools alike have put out police warnings, directing anyone who believes their children had been approached online to contact Detective Simon Fisher at the Central Gippsland Sexual Offences and Child Assault Investigation Team at Morwell Police via email on simon.fisher@police.vic.gov.au .

Alternatively, anyone who believes their family or child would benefit from counselling is encouraged to call the Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault on 5134 3922 or 1800 806 292 or email mail@gippscasa.org.

Leongatha Secondary College will host a Cyber Smart information session this Thursday (June 20) from 5pm to 6pm at the LSC I Learn Centre.

The internet safety awareness presentations will offer parents, students and teachers cyber safety information, with tips and strategies to help students stay safe online.

Short URL: https://thestar.com.au/?p=7407

Posted by on Jun 19 2013. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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