Google clampdown: Contempt of court changes put forward

What a tweet. Many have been in trouble for dodgy tweets of late
What a tweet. Many have been in trouble for dodgy tweets of late

By Charles Maggs

Jurors could face tighter restrictions on their behaviour under proposed changes to contempt of court laws published today.

The Law Commission is consulting on reforming existing legislation in a bid to ensure that defendants can continue to receive a fair trial in the age of Twitter.

Legislation covering contempt of court seeks to stop the publication of any material which might prejudice that trial - but the law has been slow in keeping up with technological advances.

Newspapers are forbidden from publishing anything that could affect a trial once a defendant has been arrested, but in an age of Twitter, social media and citizen journalists, many have argued the law needs to be updated.

"The purpose of our consultation is to ask how, in a modern, internet-connected society, the law of contempt can continue to support the principles that criminal cases should be tried only on the evidence heard in court," Professor David Ormerod, who is leading the consultation, said.

"We are seeking ways to protect the administration of justice and the defendant's right to a fair trial while keeping to a minimum interference with the right of media organisations and private individuals to publish."

Recently jurors have been prosecuted for searching for defendants' information online. The commission is proposing that this is more strictly adhered to, perhaps by confiscating jurors'mobile phones during a trial.

It is also proposing a new law that explicitly stops jurors from seeking new information about a defendant and making this restriction clearer to them before a trial begins.

Recently the Speakers' wife Sally Bercow was widely criticised for apparent contempt and may face a hefty fine for naming a schoolgirl who was abducted by her maths teacher Jeremy Forrest back in the summer.

Although the schoolgirl was named when she was missing, Forrest has now been arrested,meaning she cannot be named now.

Bercow later joked: "Apparently, I shouldn't have tweeted that. You need a law degree to be on Twitter nowadays. It's ridiculous." She closed down her account shortly afterwards.

Although no papers have published the girl's name since Forrest's arrest, it is still available on newspapers' online archives. Publishers could be forced to remove these under another proposed change in the law.

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