Amstrad and Viglen founder Alan Sugar was ordered by a judge to take down a Twitter message in January because it could unfairly influence jurors in an MP's expenses trial, it emerged on Thursday.
Lord Sugar had tweeted: "Lord Taylor, Tory peer, in court over alleged expenses fiddle. Wonder if he will get off as he is a Tory compared to Labour MP [David Chaytor] who was sent to jail." Taylor was ultimately convicted, but according to a BBC report Mr Justice Saunders had forced the removal of Sugar's tweet. The media was barred from reporting on this removal at the time.
According to the report, Saunders referred the matter to attorney general Dominic Grieve, who declined to take action against Sugar.
Internet law expert Lilian Edwards, the professor of e-governance at Strathclyde University, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the court order against Sugar's tweet was "legally unsurprising". She also drew a comparison between the episode and that of Paul Chambers, the man who was prosecuted for jokingly threatening to blow up Robin Hood airport near Doncaster.
"Contempt of court laws exist to prevent pre-trial prejudice whether actively intended or not," Edwards said in an email. "It's an interesting reminder that tweets can't just invade the privacy of shagging footballers but also break the laws of libel, copyright infringement and contempt of court — just like any other published statements.
"What is interesting is that most people think they evade these laws by practical obscurity — one in a hill of beans. But this didn't work for Paul Chambers and now it hasn't for Lord Sugar (though he has escaped any sanction). For once though it seems the celebrities are likely to get worse not more favourable treatment, because so many more people are likely to read their tweets, so they will be under more surveillance."
Edwards added that stars such as Britney Spears are likely to have reputation managers doing searches on their name, making Twitter "in a way a more unsafe place to talk about people in a risky or illegal way than many other domains".