Law Commission seeks change in law to protect archive stories from Contempt of Court action

News stories held on internet archives could be exempted from contempt of court proceedings as long as they were published before proceedings became active, new proposals released today recommended.

The Law Commission said that contempt proceedings should only be considered if a news organisation failed to remove stories believed to be prejudicial following a warning from the Attorney General.

Under the current system, online news publishers can face prosecution for archived stories that relate to a live criminal case.

Once someone is charged with an offence, the proceedings are deemed active and publishers are bound by a strict liability rule.

Newspapers are exempted from potential contempt actions if they printed their story in advance of the commencement of proceedings.

But archive stories available online about information such as prior convictions for defendants could potentially be subject to contempt of court action under the current law.

A Law Commission spokesman said: "This would mean that publishers need not continually review all the material they have previously published online in light of newly instituted proceedings."

Professor David Ormerod QC, the Law Commissioner heading the contempt project, said: "The exemption we propose would reduce the burden on publishers and balance their right to freedom of expression with the defendant's right to a fair trial. It is a proportionate response to a modern problem."

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