QC: contempt charges now less likely

Government law officers are showing a greater reluctance to bring
contempt proceedings against the media, Jonathan Caplan, QC, told the
conference.

He said there was a growing acceptance that jurors
were “robust and independently minded” and that in the age of the
internet it was a “Canute-like fantasy” to think juries could be
completely protected.

But he warned the changing atmosphere was “not a licence to publish anything you like”.

Caplan noted that the newspaper that headlined the capture of the failed London bombers as “Got the bastards”

had
not been prosecuted. However, the Daily Star faced proceedings after
identifying two Premiership footballers involved in a rape
investigation.

Caplan said in the first case law officers had
taken a “long-term view” over the possible impact on the case. In the
second, the paper had disregarded the warnings. He said the lesson was
“a prosecution must not be compromised and guidance needs to be
respected”.

Caplan said court orders relevant to the media should
be filed centrally on the internet. The conference heard that PA had
suggested such a service but met “granite-like” resistance.

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