Tuesday, June 7, 2011
In contempt of court
A man is helping police with their enquiries.
The Contempt of Court Act 1981 was designed to ensure before and during a trial, the press did not influence a jury or interfere with the proceedings.
Over the years the press have ignored this at their peril and faced hefty fines and some court cases have been re-run.
Judges who have issued injunctions use this Act to stop people spilling the beans. If Imogen Thomas told anyone CTB was Ryan Giggs she would be in contempt of court and would go to prison as well as be fined. And this is why she is gagged.
The Act was not intended to cover injunctions and hence we have this ludicrous situation where Judges and the Attorney General are holding thousands of Tweeters, bloggers, commentators and pub gossipers in contempt of court for even mentioning certain injunctions.
Contempt of Court 1981 Act: A summary
Contempt of court is where their is interference with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so.
Interference can come from publication (speech, writing, cable programme service or other communication in whatever form), which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public.
Here is how a Tweeter would defend themselves:
There is a defence of innocent publication or distribution as stated in the Act.
A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the publisher of any matter to which that rule applies if at the time of publication (having taken all reasonable care) he does not know and has no reason to suspect that relevant proceedings are active.
A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the distributor of a publication containing any such matter if at the time of distribution (having taken all reasonable care) he does not know that it contains such matter and has no reason to suspect that it is likely to do so.
Subject to this section a person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule in respect of a fair and accurate report of legal proceedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith.
Discussion of public affairs: A publication made as or as part of a discussion in good faith of public affairs or other matters of general public interest is not to be treated as a contempt of court under the strict liability rule if the risk of impediment or prejudice to particular legal proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion.
So there you go.
The chance of a Tweeter being in contempt of court is minimal.
Which is a good thing because there are more serious crimes and legal matters that need sorting out.