Lawyers and judicial officers will no longer have freedom to post whatever they want on social media platforms, according to a new set of guidelines published by the International Bar Association (IBA).
The rules require that lawyers maintain the same standard of professionalism when uploading content online to that they espouse when practicing or representing clients in courts of law.
They are supposed to clarify whether the content they are posting is intended to be relied upon as professional advice. In addition, they must indicate if they are doing so in their personal or work-related capacity.
Lawyers and judicial officers have been a little liberal on some of their postings in Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, and many may oppose the new rules.
Some voiced their discontent immediately the announcement was made.
“This to me is total manipulation of members. Why now?” Ms Jackline Nyawira, an advocate, reacted.
Bar associations and regulatory bodies are required to ensure that lawyers are not subjected to external pressures that may hamper their ability to offer impartial advice and representation as social media creates a context in which lawyers may form visible links to clients, judges and other lawyers.
“Before entering into an online ‘relationship’, lawyers should reflect upon the professional implications of being linked publicly. Comments and content posted online ought to project the same professional independence and the appearance of independence that is required in practice,” reads the guideline.
“Legal professionals should be reminded that information on social media sites could be produced by either side in litigation.
“To clarify use: when lawyers present themselves online as legal professionals, it is possible that their statements may be relied upon as legal advice and for retainers to be inadvertently created,” it states.
The judicial offers are not supposed to engage in activities they would not do or say in front of a “crowd”.
“Lawyers should also be reminded that inappropriate use of social media can also lead to exposure to discrimination, harassment and invasion of privacy claims as well as exposure to claims for defamation, libel and other torts,” IBA says.
The President of East Africa Law Society, Mr James Mwamu, asked lawyers to familiarise themselves with the guidelines. He warned that any breach of it by judges, magistrates and lawyers would amount to professional misconduct.
“We have just passed and approved six guidelines for Lawyers throughout the world on the use of social media. These guidelines are binding on all Bar Associations and Law firms,” he announced on his Facebook account on Saturday.
Mr Mwamu said the rules were prepared and approved by IBA, in which Kenya has a representative.
IBA states that Bar associations and regulatory bodies should remind their members about the ramifications of posting content online.
“The IBA appreciates that individual bar associations and regulatory bodies will be best placed to assess the needs of their own jurisdictions, while balancing these needs with their capacity and available resources,” it states.
It proposes that the guidelines should be incorporated in letters of employment and induction training, as well as supplemented by regular training to educate judicial employees on new and emerging risks in law.