Society of Editors welcomes contempt law shake-up

Journalists have welcomed a long-asked-for review of Britain’s contempt of court laws.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said: ‘I believe that we should look at providing more, but controlled, information to the public in cases where there is a strong public interest.

‘A consistent concern expressed to me is that the absence of information on cases pending, especially after high-profile arrests, can be very damaging.”

Speaking at the Reform Club in London, he said: ‘It may be worth establishing a more systematic arrangement for continuing that dialogue in future, for example some kind of Attorney General’s media advisory group or forum.”

Society of Editors’ president Paul Horrocks, editor of the Manchester Evening News, said: ‘The society welcomes this move, which was one of the subjects we recently discussed with the Attorney General and his senior officials. It is clear he has listened carefully to the points we made.

‘These proposals could provide greater clarity on what can be published while high-profile cases are being examined, particularly given the 24 hours digital news age in which we live.

‘I am sure the UK media industry will welcome anything which leads to greater access to information and meaningful guidance.”

Goldsmith has also proposed research into whether pre-trial or during-trial publicity influenced jurors or prejudiced them – which could lead to a shake-up of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act and the strict liability rule which prohibits publication of anything which creates a ‘substantial risk of serious prejudice’to a trial once an arrest has been made.

Horrocks said: ‘This is a project which is long overdue and I think it will be fascinating to know what effect publicity has on jurors. Evidence in other countries suggests the impact is minimal.”

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