A legal expert has warned users of social network Twitter that comments against Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius may potentially lead to a defamation claim down the line.
Pistorius is currently in the dock facing charges that he shot and murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on Valentines Day.
The story has captivated people both locally, and internationally, given the athlete’s profile.
His story has also led to thousands of Twitter users to make comments, jokes, and even judgements on his guilt or innocence – before his case was even heard in court earlier this week.
“The Oscar Pistorius case has enthralled South Africans who are torn between supporting their hero and their disappointment at seemingly being let down by a South African icon,” said legal expert and founder of web.tech.law, Paul Jacobson on his website.
Web.tech.law is a specialised Web and digital media legal and compliance services firm.
“While our Bill of rights gives us the right to express our opinions, our rights are not absolute and, in the context of defamation, the defamed person’s right to dignity often holds sway unless there are clear public policy reasons to allow the comments to stand,” Jacobson said.
He pointed out that Pistorius is yet to be found guilty and is therefore, still under law, innocent.
“Drawing conclusions about Pistorius’ guilt and publishing those conclusions online can lead to a defamation claim down the line,” Jacobson said.
“In all likelihood, most of the conjecture about Pistorius’ guilt is defamatory and the question is whether those defamatory statements are justifiable and that remains to be seen.”
“If you are engaged in a debate about the case, it may be prudent for you to be measured in your statements and avoid potentially prejudicial declarations,” the legal expert warned.
In January, The South Gauteng High Court set a new legal precedent after it granted a South African Facebook user an interdict preventing a friend from posting about his personal life on the social network after she defamed him on the site.