Attorney General plans guidelines on contempt laws

Goldsmith: asked to end confusion

The Attorney General has told the Society of Editors he is working on guidelines that could help to end the confusion surrounding the law on contempt.

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell described a meeting with Lord Goldsmith as “very positive”.

He said the Attorney General had accepted that no journalist, publication or broadcaster wanted to jeopardise a trial.

“Lord Goldsmith said he would work on new guidelines over which he will consult with the industry. It will be a way the industry can have a say on the guidelines before they are finalised,” Satchwell said. “We’ve said they shouldn’t be just for the media but guidelines for the courts and politicians as well.”

The society hopes guidelines on contempt could be as useful as those on reporting restrictions, drawn up with the help of Lord Justice Judge.

The meeting followed an approach by the Society of Editors to Goldsmith following the Press Gazette and Newspaper Society Law for Journalists conference last November.

At the conference, Goldsmith criticised the press for coverage which he warned could prejudice major trials.

At the same time, he had to hastily withdraw comments he had made about the Soham murder case because they could have been in contempt.

This led to Satchwell and others asking how the press could keep within the law when the Attorney General himself had difficulty doing so.

Editors have also been concerned for some time that the law on contempt was inconsistent, with some newspapers getting away with coverage that appears to be in flagrant breach of the law while others were punished.

By Jon Slattery

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