Contempt of Court

Open date: 28 November 2012

Close date: 28 February 2013

Contempt of Court was included in our Eleventh Programme of Law Reform following a proposal from the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee.

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;
  • contempt proceedings for the vilification of Chris Jefferies during the investigation into the murder of Joanna Yeates; and
  • proceedings for contempt by publication following the collapse of the prosecution of Levi Bellfield.

“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. This 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. In addition, there are concerns that some aspects of the law or procedure relating to contempt of court may be unclear or incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The consultation

The consultation considers whether the law and procedure for dealing with the contempts outlined above are adequate.  It proposes a number of reforms, which are intended to make the law fair, understandable, practicable and “future-proof”.

Reference number: LCCP209

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