Law Commission Consultation on Contempt of Court

November 28, 2012

A consultation process opened on 28 November in which the Law Commission seeks views on its proposals for reform of the law of contempt. While the reform proposals and the consultation range over wider areas, the issue of making the law of contempt fit with ‘the new media’ is high on the agenda and SCL members may wish to contribute on that topic..

A number of high-profile cases involving contempt of court have recently highlighted the need for a review of this area of the law. These include:

·        a juror who was found to have researched the defendant on the internet;

·        the first internet contempt by publication, which concerned the posting of an incriminating photograph of a defendant on a website.  

The consultation paper focuses on four specific areas of contempt:

1. contempt by publication;
2. the new media;
3. contempts committed by jurors; and
4. contempt in the face of the court.

The new media pose a number of challenges to the existing laws on contempt of court, which pre-date the internet age. Law Commissioner, Professor David Ormerod, explains: “Our consultation raises questions about the law’s ability to protect the administration of justice by balancing the right to publish with the right of the defendant to a fair trial. Among other things, we are seeking views on what safeguards might be put in place to prevent jurors searching for, and being able to find, potentially prejudicial material during the course of a trial, irrespective of when it was published.”

One proposal is that a specific offence of intentionally seeking information related to the case that a juror is trying should be introduced. 

The consultation closes on 28 February 2013. 

·        Contempt of Court Consultation [PDF, 0.51mb]