Tag Archives: twitter

Social Media – A Dangerous Place for Professionals?

Many professionals are held by their regulators to a higher standard than other members of the public. Conduct which may fall well short of being criminal in nature may nonetheless excite the interest of a regulator, with the potential for censure.

In the most recent case of Diggins v Bar Standards Board [2020] EWHC 467 (Admin), a barrister failed in his challenge to a sanction being imposed in respect to an unpleasant social media post.

No ‘second bite of the cherry’

The court emphasised that an appeal was not a de novo exercise, allowing for another chance to litigate the same points in the hope of a different finding.

The court held:

“There is another strand to the self-restraint required of an appeal court that is relevant here. This is an appeal against a professional disciplinary Panel.  Where the Court considers on appeal a decision of a profession’s regulatory or disciplinary body it:

“…will place weight on the expertise brought to bear in evaluating how best the needs of the profession and the public should be protected” (Council for the Regulation of Healthcare Professionals v General Medical Council [2005] EWCA Civ 1356 [2005] 1 WLR 717 [78]).

In the context of sanctions imposed by regulators of the legal profession, the Court will keep in mind that the tribunal “.. comprises an expert and informed tribunal, which is particularly well placed in any case to assess what measures are J required to deal with defaulting solicitors and to protect the public interest.

Absent any error of law, the High Court must pay considerable respect to the sentencing decisions of the tribunal.

Nevertheless if the High Court, despite paying such respect, is satisfied that the sentencing decision was clearly inappropriate, then the court will interfere.””

This part of the judgment is a salutary reminder that it is all essential to get things right at the first hearing. Any professional who faces regulatory proceedings should take particular care to ensure that the solicitors and barristers instructed are sufficiently expert in this field of law.

Right to a private life?

The central ground of challenge was that the regulator had no jurisdiction to deal with disputes of this nature, with Diggins arguing that:

“…participation in a “twitter spat” was an aspect of his private life which, on the proper interpretation of the BSB’s own rules and guidance and/or as a matter of human rights law, falls wholly outside the proper scope of professional regulation.”

The court emphasised that the regulators own guidance makes very clear that transgressions in a professional’s private life may be considered. The court went on to reject a large number of ECHR human rights challenges.

Rather tellingly the court held:

“…[caselaw does not] provide any support for the further argument advanced to me by the appellant, that the Panel could not properly find against him because “Twitter is famously rude and offensive and complaining of that is like going to a Motorhead concert and complaining it is too loud”.

It is a notorious fact that many on Twitter use rude and offensive language, indeed that some engage in harassment of others, or wounding “pile-ons”.

But I have no evidence, nor is it a matter of common knowledge, that everybody on Twitter behaves in these ways.

Even if that was so, a descriptive norm of that kind could not confer a right on any individual user to post rude or offensive messages. If the argument is that every Twitter user makes a voluntary submission to behaviour of that kind, no such argument was advanced below, and I consider it to be untenable.

I see no evidential or other basis for concluding that all Twitter users consent to being treated abusively or offensively.”


In all probability, we have not seen the last of these challenges to the jurisdiction of a regulator to police behaviour of this type. It is, however, becoming quite clear that the courts appear to take little issue with the regulatory approach, and all professionals would be wise to reflect on how they interact on social media and other platforms.

Contact a specialist regulatory solicitor

nottingham regulatory Martin Hadley
Regulatory solicitor Martin Hadley

If you are facing proceedings relating to professional conduct and regulation then please contact specialist regulatory solicitor Martin Hadley.

He will be able to provide you with advice and representation at all stages of any criminal, regulatory or disciplinary matter.

Please contact Martin on 0115 9599550 or use the contact form below.





Social media crime and how to avoid it

With the ever-growing popularity of social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram it is important to take a step back and consider your use of them. You need to make sure that you and your children not only control the personal information that is put onto social media but also your behaviour on such sites to steer clear of social media crime.

social media crime

Control your online information

 Be aware of the potential for cyber-enabled fraud. Fraudsters can use information obtained from such sites to commit identity theft. social media crimeTelling everyone about your forthcoming holiday may also be an advance invitation to a burglar.  It is surprising how much information we reveal about ourselves over a period of time.

If you have children you also need to be aware of the dangers of persons contacting them and then grooming your child.  This involves building an emotional attachment to them with a view to a meeting for the purpose of sexual abuse or exploitation.

Many online games allow for messaging between users – do you know who your child is talking to?

Control your own behaviour

 Many offences can be committed in the heat of the moment or when in drink.  They will involve the typing of a comment that cannot then be taken back.

social media crimeTrolling, or sending abusive messages online, can be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003.  Stiff penalties can be imposed in either case.

Revenge porn, involving publishing intimate images of an ex-partner without their consent, is now a criminal offence and often results in a prison sentence.  This article deals with this type of offending in more detail.

What may seem to be banter to you may actually be offensive.  What may be intended to be seen by a few could end up being seen by thousands of social media users.

The use of a fake social networking profile or account may also be a criminal offence in certain circumstances.

What about freedom of speech and social media crime?

 Freedom of speech is not an absolute right and may be restricted where necessary and proportionate.

 Think it couldn’t happen to you?

 You might remember the Robin Hood Airport case?  In that case a young man made what he intended to be a jokey comment about blowing up the airport if he couldn’t make his flight due to adverse weather.

He found himself in court and was convicted by magistrates.  He lost his appeal to the crown court.  His conviction was finally quashed at a second High Court appeal. By then he had already lost his job as a consequence of the conviction.

 What are the consequences?

 Social media has recently been blamed for an increase in knife social media crimecrime.  It is argued that it can amplify the effect of violence. Accordingly, online offences are being dealt with seriously.

Last year the Crown Prosecution Service updated its policy statements in order to take account of the increase in online abuse,.  The change is to emphasise that individuals need to appreciate they can’t go online and use their keyboard without any consequences.

At the other end of the spectrum, saying something unpopular or unpleasant is not unlawful.  People’s sensitivities do need to be balanced with free speech, and we see reported a number of cases that cause us concern.

This tide of sensitivity could result in people pleading guilty when in fact they are not.

How can we help defend social media crime?

Social media crime will involve serious allegations and the law is complex.  As a result, if you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about an offence then make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice.

The advantages of such early advice legal advice can be found here.

If you have already been interviewed or face court proceedings we can still make a real difference to the outcome of your case.  Legal aid may well be available to fund your defence at court.

We have offices across the East Midlands.  You can find your most convenient office here.   Alternatively you can contact us using the form below.

social media crime
VHS Fletchers solicitors East Midlands offices