The president of the Queensland Law Society has raised concerns that social media commentary surrounding a coward punch case could result in a mistrial.
Bill Potts said the use of social media to express opinions on cases currently before the courts had to be carefully considered to ensure that justice was not impeded.
“I understand that the public uses social media as a safety valve during highly emotional circumstances,” he said.
“However, there is real danger that words spoken out of anger may influence potential jurors.”
Mr Potts’ remarks follow the death of Brisbane teenager Cole Miller, 18, who sustained head injuries in an unprovoked one-punch attack, which occurred on 3 January.
Two men were charged with unlawful striking causing Miller’s death and face a minimum jail sentence of 15 years if found guilty.
Following their arrest, the internet group Anonymous Australia published a Facebook post on the case, which was shared almost 40,000 times by 6 January.
The post sought to disparage the character of Armstrong Renata, one of the men arrested in relation to Miller’s death.
Anonymous Australia responded to commenters who said the Facebook post risked jeopardising the trial by writing: “Hey everyone preaching the whole fair trial thing, you must’ve missed the last time we covered something like this. We reached 2.5m people with that post, and that bastard is chilling in jail. Make of it what you will.”
Mr Potts asked members of the public to “consider the Cole family’s right to justice being done for their son”.
“Justice must be done in the courts and not on the internet,” he said.
The Queensland Law Society has advocated on the issue of street violence in the past and has made a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015.
“The loss of anyone, let alone such a young man, is heartbreaking,” said Mr Potts. “We must do all we can to prevent this from happening again.”
Mr Potts said that heavy penalties do not work as deterrents. “It just doesn’t come into play when these attacks occur,” he said.
“I firmly believe in prevention rather than punishment,” he continued.
“We must do everything we can to prevent the loss of lives, rather than focusing on society’s retribution after someone is killed. Experience from other Australian states shows that lockouts substantially reduce the rates of assault, and can be an effective part of the solution to prevent more tragedies.”