Contempt of Court

Closed 28 Feb 2013

Opened 28 Nov 2012

Overview

The law governing contempt of court is vast. Several specialist textbooks devote hundreds of pages to the topic. The number of different contempt offences is equally huge. Our work is necessarily constrained by the time and resources available and it would not be possible to produce meaningful reform proposals for the entire law of contempt within those constraints. This consultation, therefore, addresses specific, practical problems that have been identified by our research and communication with stakeholders. In this way we aim to achieve the maximum benefit within available resources.

The areas we identified as in need for review are:

  1. Contempt by publication both under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and at common law.
  2. Publication, publishers and modern media.
  3. Juror contempt.
  4. Contempt in the face of the court.

 

Why We Are Consulting

Since the publication of the Eleventh Programme, the Attorney General emphasised the urgent need to reform the law in this area and at the end of January 2012 asked the Commission to prioritise work on this project. Our intention is to produce a report by spring 2014.

Various high profile cases have occurred since the publication of the Eleventh Programme which underscore the need for this project. These include:

(1) a juror who was found to have researched the defendant on the internet;

(2) the first internet contempt by publication, which concerned the posting of an incriminating photograph of a defendant on a website;

(3) contempt proceedings for the vilification of Chris Jefferies during the investigation into the murder of Joanna Yeates; and

(4) proceedings for contempt by publication following the collapse of the prosecution of Levi Bellfield.

Such cases illustrate the challenge that is posed by the new media to the existing laws on contempt of court which pre-date the internet age. They also illustrate the continuing need for limits on media coverage in order to protect the administration of justice and the right to a fair trial.

What Happens Next

Other ways to respond

If you prefer not to complete this consultation online, other ways of responding are given on the Contempt of Court project page.

Audiences

  • Citizens
  • Legal professionals
  • Media

Interests

  • Criminal justice
  • Freedom of speech
  • Media
  • Modern media
  • Social media and social networking