Does the web make contempt laws unenforceable?

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The Contempt of Court Act 1981 can only be effective “if it can police the wild, untamed internet“, argued barrister Clive Coleman, the presenter of Radio 4’s Law in Action, argued in yesterday’s Times.

Coleman writes: “[I]n an age when anyone can write just about anything on a blog or online discussion board without any real fear of prosecution, why is the law still enforced – well, sort of enforced – against newspapers and broadcasters?”

The story follows suggestions, reported last month by Law in Action, that former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer had suggesed that newspapers should delete stories from their online archives if something in the story became relevant to a trial.

Falconer’s suggestion was dismissed as unworkable by commentators.

Coleman agrees with that view: “[R]emoval is nigh on impossible. Invisible copies are stored elsewhere in cyber-caches, and they would remain even if a broadcaster deleted material from its archive. There is also nothing to stop anyone abroad setting up Contempt.com and publish away happily beyond the reach of our law.”

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