Law academic calls for a complete database of reporting restrictions to be introduced
A senior lecturer in law at City University London has provided expert advice to the Law Commission during their review of the rules governing contempt of court. Claire de Than recommended that a complete database of reporting restrictions should be launched to help inform journalists and bloggers covering criminal trials.
Contempt of court covers a wide variety of conduct which undermines, or has the potential to undermine, the course of justice. It includes the restrictions that can be placed on journalists, if the court deems it necessary, to avoid a substantial risk of prejudice to those or other legal proceedings.
The Law Commission report, published on 26th March 2014, says a formal system for communicating the existence of these orders to the media is necessary. It recommends that a single publicly accessible website be set up to help reduce the risk of contempt for publishers, from large media organisations to individual bloggers. Claire de Than says greater clarity is needed for all journalists.
"The recommendations are a welcome and important first step towards a complete database of all discretionary reporting restrictions, which will enable responsible journalists to report on cases without fear of criminal liability. At present, it is very difficult for journalists to make sure they are not breaching any reporting restrictions and that has a far more chilling effect on responsible journalism than the law of defamation does".
The recommendations also call for a further restricted service where, for a charge, registered users could find out the detail of the reporting restriction and could sign up for automated email alerts of new orders. It is hoped that this will enable journalists and publishers to comply with the court's restrictions and report proceedings to the public with confidence.
Claire de Than explains that the recommendations would also help to solve an equality issue:
"Existing measures depend on journalists telephoning courts to ask whether any restrictions have been imposed in a particular case - this assumes that no people who are deaf or have hearing loss are involved in court reporting. Under current arrangements, there is also an accessibility issue for bloggers who risk liability for contempt of court without even being able to phone the court. The proposed new system would be real progress towards recognising the needs and impact of modern media".
The Law Commission's recommendations about court reporting are the second in a trio of reports to be published on the area of contempt of court. The first, which was released in December, covered the modern media and contempt by jurors; the third will deal with contempt in the face of the court and the remainder of the project on contempt by publication.