Status: the final report on scandalising the court was published on 19 December 2012, and an amendment implementing its recommendations is currently before Parliament. The consultation on the rest of the contempt of court project closed on 28 February 2013. We aim to produce our final report in spring 2014.
Contempt of Court
“Contempt of court” covers a wide variety of conduct which undermines or has the potential to undermine the course of justice, and the procedures which are designed to deal with them. The law governing contempt of court is vast. The Law Commission’s consultation paper on contempt of court was published in November 2012. It focused on four specific areas:
- Contempt by publication
The law on contempt by publication must balance the right of a defendant to a fair trial, with the right of the publisher to freedom of expression. There are also concerns that the procedures for dealing with this form of contempt may not be as fair and efficient as possible.
- The impact of the new media
Many of the contempts which we are examining are contained in the Contempt of Court Act 1981. This Act pre-dates the internet and there are concerns that the current law cannot adequately deal with contempts committed through the new media.
- Contempts committed by jurors
In relation to contempts committed by jurors, there is also a need to ensure that the laws and procedures strike a balance between the public interest in the administration of justice, the defendant’s right to a fair trial, and the rights of the jurors concerned.
- Contempt in the face of the court
The powers of the criminal courts to deal with contempt committed in the face of the court are also unsatisfactory. There is uncertainty as to the scope of the common law powers (which apply to the Crown Court), gaps in the statutory provisions (which apply to the magistrates’ courts) and unjustifiable inconsistency between them.
The consultation period closed on 28 February 2013. We are currently considering the responses to the consultation and we aim to produce a final report by spring 2014.
Scandalising the court
In addition to the areas of contempt dealt with in our consultation paper on contempt of court, in August 2012 we published a separate consultation paper on scandalising the court. This historic form of contempt covers conduct likely to undermine the administration of justice or public confidence in courts and judges. This work was brought forward to feed into the Government's consideration of the proposal in the Crime and Courts Bill to abolish the offence. After our consultation, we published a summary of consultees’ responses in November 2012. We produced our final report on 19 December 2012, recommending the abolition of the offence of scandalising the court.
Crime and Courts Bill
On 4 December 2012 we published a summary of our conclusions ahead of the publication of our report. We took this unusual step because a proposal for the abolition of scandalising the court was due to be debated as an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill. We did this so that the results of our independent review of the law could feed into this debate.
On 10 December 2012 the House of Lords debated, and accepted, the abolition of scandalising the court as an amendment to the Bill. All the Lords who spoke were in favour of abolition. The role played by our consultation and provisional proposals in informing the debate was widely acknowledged, with Lord Carswell commending our “admirable consultation paper, which contains a full and helpful discussion of the issues, the principles and the possible solutions”.
The Bill will now continue its passage through Parliament.
For more information on the contempt of court project, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: We are happy to provide information about our projects. However, we cannot give legal advice or deal with individual cases. Nor do we help with student assignments.