Law Commission recommends online reporting restriction database

Second report on contempt deals with section 4(2) orders

The Law Commission has published its second report on the topic of contempt. The first report dealt with jurors and modern media. This report addresses the issue of reporting restrictions under section 4(2) Contempt of Court Act 1981, which order the postponement of contemporary reporting of proceedings of the criminal courts. A third forthcoming report will deal with contempt in the face of the court and remaining areas of contempt by publication. 5RB‘s Christina Michalos and Godwin Busuttil both contributed to the Law Commission’s working group for this project.

In its report, the Law Commission noted the fundamental importance of open justice, and the concerns that had been expressed by stakeholders about the difficulties that come sometimes arise in ascertaining whether an order is in place in a particular case.

The key recommendations of the report are:

  1. That an online database is set up listing all section 4(2) orders in force in England and Wales. A similar database already exists in Scotland. This database would be available to the public and would contain the name of the case in which the order was made and the date on which it expires (if this is a fixed date rather than an event such as the conclusion of the trial).
  2. That this publicly available database be supplemented by an additional database, accessible by paid subscription, which contains the terms of each section 4(2) order.

It is envisaged that those who do not have access to the subscription database should continue to ascertain the terms of an order, should they wish to do so, by contacting the relevant court directly.

The Law Commission concluded that to include the terms of section 4(2) orders in a publicly accessible database would risk exposing the information which the order was designed to restrain. It also concluded that charging for the supplemental service was justifiable as those who did not subscribe would still have access to the information through enquiring with the relevant court; thus subscribers would be paying for the convenience of not having to do this, and having access at all hours, which may be of particular use to newspapers and broadcasters.

All of the Law Commission’s work on contempt can be accessed here.