Protecting justice or undermining freedom of speech?

By
Out of order? The law protects judges from criticism
Out of order? The law protects judges from criticism

An arcane law protecting judges from criticism could be scrapped after legal experts raised concerns it was incompatible with people's right to free speech.

The offence of 'scandalising the court' has not led to a successful prosecution since 1931 but Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin recently tried to use it against Peter Hain when he wrote in his memoirs the judge was "off his rocker".

Countless MPs spoke up for Hain as he faced two years in prison, eventually prompting the attorney general to back down, albeit with the warning the remarks would "create a real risk public confidence in the judicial system will be undermined".
The incident has now sparked a Law Commission consultation on the offence, but the body has already admitted it is minded to scrap the law - not least because it may be incompatible with the right to free speech guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
"The Commission’s provisional view is that it should be abolished and it seeks views on that proposal and whether gaps might be left in the law," the organisation said in a statement.
"It also seeks views on whether, in the alternative, the law should it be replaced – and if so, with what kind of offence."
Some believe the aim of the law – to maintain the moral authority of the judiciary – can be easily maintained using libel law or criminal law in extreme cases.

Comments

Load in comments