Law Commission launches consultation on Contempt of Court

Paper seeks views on the current system and proposals for reform

The Law Commission today launched a consultation paper on Contempt of Court. The consultation paper deals with the following four areas:

1) contempt by publication;

2) the new media;

3) contempts committed by jurors; and

4) contempt in the face of the court.

Views are sought, by 28 February 2013, on the adequacy of the current law and procedure and the Law Commission’s provisional proposals for reform.

Proposals include the introduction of:

  • A published list of factors considered by the Attorney General when deciding whether to bring contempt proceedings
  • A scheme for notifying publishers of section 4(2) orders, which could potentially be expanded to other types of order
  • A power to fine publishers a set percentage of their turnover for contempt by publication
  • A power to make a wasted costs order in relation to criminal proceedings affected by a contempt
  • A power to make an order, when proceedings are active, to require a publisher or person with control of access to material to temporarily remove or disable access to a publication, first published before proceedings became active, which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced
  •  A specific offence for jurors of intentionally seeking information relating to a case that juror is trying
  • Greater teaching in schools about the role and importance of jury service
  • Internet enabled devices: should not automatically be removed from jurors, but a  power to remove them if the court considers appropriate and automatic removal during jury deliberations
  • A system to make it easier for jurors to report their concerns
  • Guidance on when an enquiry into contempt in the face of the court should be passed to another court
  • A statutory power to deal with intentional threats or insults to people in the court or its immediate precincts and misconduct in the court or its immediate precincts committed with the intention that proceedings will or might be disrupted.

Views are also sought on issues including:

  • Whether contempt cases should be tried by a judge alone or judge and jury
  • Sentencing: Are the current maximums appropriate? Should community sentences be an option?
  • Whether the definition of “publication” in section 2(1) appropriate to cover new media
  • Does the concept “a section of the public” create problems in practice? – examples are sought
  • Whether section 8 should be amended to allow research into juries
  • Whether jurors should sign a written oath as well as stating the oath orally
  • The nature of proceedings for contempt in the face of the court: Are they criminal proceedings to which strict rules of evidence apply?
  • Powers in relation to contempt in face of court