Attorney General backs down on plan to censor news archives to avoid contempt risk

Attorney General Dominic Grieve (pictured: Reuters) has today withdrawn clauses in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that would have given him power to order the removal of online archive news stories in the run-up to a criminal trial.

Clauses 37 and 38 were set to introduce new powers allowing the Attorney General and the courts to require owners of online news archives to remove material which might prejudice upcoming proceedings.

If the website operators failed to comply, the proposals stipulated that criminal sanctions could follow in the form of either an unlimited fine or imprisonment.

The Society of Editors, which made representations to the AG alongside the Newspaper Society and Media Lawyers Association, announced this afternoon that “the new defence counterbalanced by the AG’s notice powers are to be removed by government amendment”.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “When we met the Attorney we said it would be wrong in principle for a member of the government to have power to order media organisations to take down material. 

“We also told him that it would cause huge practical problems if defence lawyers sought blanket orders to taken down material which could be seen by jurors.

“We are very pleased that the Attorney has listened to our concerns.”

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