There has been a fair bit of discussion over the last few days relating to Contempt of Court. This is a complicated area which we will look at in more detail shortly, but we thought we would flag up the current Law Commission consultation as the deadline is fast approaching, 28th February to be precise.
They will be covering four main areas. We will have a very quick look at what sorts of topics they are seeking your views on:
1. Contempt by Publication
This wil be looking at when the ‘active period’ should start – should it be from when someone is arrested, when they are charged, or some other period? The Chris Jefferies case is a good example of the issues raised here. It will also look at other areas, such as the test under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 where there is a ‘strict liability’ rule. An interesting question here is whether ‘common law’ contempt should now become a specific criminal offence and tried on an indictment.
2. New Media
The internet is a game changer in so many ways. The Law Commission are looking at who is a publisher, what is publication, who else could be liable for a contempt (ISPs? WordPress?), is publication a ‘continuing act’ (ie, if I write a blog post which, due to events, becomes a Contempt of Court, am I liable? Do I have an obligation to take it down?), to what extent should (or indeed can) the law cover Contemps committed outside of the jurisdiction? How sould this be defined?
The Law Commission is also proposing to give Judges a power to remove content from the internet (or at least direct its removal). This has, unsurprisingly, gone down quite badly with some sections of the internet.
3. Jurors and Juries
We have looked at some of the issues that arise here before. The Law Commission want to assess whether the current directions are adequate and realistic given the technology now in existence. How can we control what jurors look at on the internet? Should we? How should jurors be prosecuted for this sort of Contempt? Should s8 Contempt of Court Act be amended?
4. Contempt ‘in the face of the Court’
This covers what most people would think of as contempt – assaulting or being verbally abusive to a Judge or other court users (including such matters as setting off laughing gas). The Law Commission are seeking views on whether the definition of what constitutes contempt should be tightened, what should happen if the conduct is also a seperate criminal offence, and what procedure should be adopted (should the Judge deal with it then and there for example).
This is obviously a brief overview. It’s an important consultation and an area of the law that is very much in a state of flux. You’ve got until the 28th February 2013 to make your view known …