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Twitter and Facebook: not just for friends and family

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Twitter and Facebook: not just for friends and family

Those of us who use social media will know only too well how easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security. It would seem that there is a stern dividing line between the personal and the professional: what harm can there be in, for example, posting a picture of that scandalous outfit you wore to Notting Hill back in 2013? Who would see it but friends and family?

However, we would all do well not to underestimate the determination and dedication of awyers set on rooting out the best possible evidence to support their case. It’s long been said that personal injury claimants should keep an eye on their social media use: you won’t get very far trying to screw thousands of pounds out of the council for a crooked paving slab and a broken leg if lawyers can present photographs of you abseiling down Cheddar Gorge the following morning.

But a recent case has suggested that lawyers in employment tribunals have cottoned on to the potential for social media sites to be a rich source of evidence.  In JF v MJR [2015], a dismissed employee filed an application to extend a time limit to file his claim. He said that he had been suffering from depression and anxiety, he had had a bereavement, his wife could not support the family, and his ex-wife was preventing him from having contact with his children since he was no longer able to afford to pay maintenance. His legal team told the tribunal that all this being the case he could simply not have filed the necessary documents sooner, and should therefore be granted the extension necessary.

Alas for the claimant, lawyers for his employers took a peek at his Facebook feed. During the period between being dismissed and eventually fling his claim - when he had supposedly been more or less incapacitated with depression, grief and financial woes – he had clearly been having a tremendous time. Location-specific check-ins, tags, photographs and status updates made (inexplicably) public shown that he had hosted dinner parties, performed all night as a DJ, undertaken an enthusiastic amount of drinking with his wife in bars, and even pursued a music career by visiting recording studios.

Whilst the day-to-day dealings of claimants’ lives after they’ve been dismissed rarely have anything to do with the claim itself, in this case it was clear that he had had ample time to submit the documentation, and his claim was dismissed.

It’s evidence – were further evidence needed – that the successful lawyer must respond to the modern climate, fully engaging with the tech-heavy, social-media inflected world we live in. Failing to understand the implications of the different kinds of evidence that can be used in a trial can prevent lawyers from giving the best possible service to their clients.

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