Contempt of court in 400 characters

28 November 2012

The Law Commission has launched a consultation addressing whether existing laws on contempt of court (which pre-date the internet age) are adequate enough to deal with the challenges being posed by new media, eg, Twitter.

Mark George QC was interviewed for Lexis Nexis Current Awareness and gave his views about this developing area.

“It is critical to the future health of trial by jury that new means of communication, especially those like social media that allow communication by those who are unfamiliar with the law relating to the reporting of proceedings in court, do not cause prejudice to those on trial or otherwise threaten the integrity of the trial process. If the law needs updating to ensure jury trials are not threatened in this way then this would be a welcome development.”

“In some way however the current law appears perfectly adequate. It seems to me the terms of CCA 1981, s 2 are already capable of applying to anyone who sent a communication about proceedings in court via Twitter or Facebook for example. After all, it should be borne in mind that the Lord Chief Justice (at the end of 2011) issued interim guidance on the use in court of Twitter by journalists so as to enable them to produce live reports of court proceedings.”

“However, allowing someone accused of contempt to be tried by a jury would involve a significant modification of the procedure used to deal with contempt of court but would afford an accused person greater protection than under the current procedure.”

Mark George QC is a barrister and Head of Chambers at Garden Court North Chambers.

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