Police are appealing to the public to be more responsible and professional when commenting on social media about sensitive matters which include ongoing police investigations or pending court cases.
“Recently, an article was published in certain sections of the media, surrounding an ongoing police investigation into an alleged sexual offence. This has prompted members of the public to weigh in on the matter and post several damaging comments on social media,” a police press release stated yesterday.
“This behaviour is not only seen as unprofessional and irresponsible, but can also hamper police investigations and pending court matters, by prejudicing their outcome or ending in a miscarriage of justice.”
According to the release, the Sexual Offences Act of Antigua and Barbuda, No. 9 of 1995, makes it unlawful for anyone to publish or broadcast the identity of an accused person, or complainants in a sexual offence case.
Section 29 of the Act states: “After a person is accused of an offence under this Act, no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify a person as the complainant or as the accused in relation to that accusation shall either be published in Antigua and Barbuda in a written publication available to the public, or be broadcast in Antigua and Barbuda except-
“ (a) Where, on the application of the complainant or the accused, the court directs that the effect or the restriction is to impose a substantial and unreasonable restriction on the reporting of proceedings and that it is in the public interest to remove the restriction in respect of the application; or
“ (b) In the case of an accused, after he has been tried and convicted of the offence.
“Therefore, anyone who contravenes this Act, by publishing or broadcasting any matter contrary to subsection (1) would be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of $25,000 and to imprisonment for two years; and upon conviction on indictment to a fine of $25,000 and to imprisonment for five years.”
Meanwhile, the administration within the police force has pledged its continued commitment to working with the general public in all aspects of fighting crime, and is asking for the full cooperation of all going forward.