The Law Commission is to publish a consultation paper tomorrow over moves to reform contempt laws in England and Wales as part of efforts to ensure that those who publish information about criminal trials online can be punished.
Current legislation is seen as antiquated and in no way adequate for policing the growing number of blogs and social networking sites which can rapidly disseminate illegal information about criminal proceedings to huge audiences.
Up for revision is the common-law offence of contempt and the Contempt of Court Act 1981which could see contempt tackled in the same way by magistrates courts, Crown Courts and the Court of Appeal for the first time.
This would translate as higher fines to compensate for the cost of retrials where a case has collapsed due to public comment and new powers to detain or bail individuals whilst allegations are considered.
At present many lawyers consider existing legislation to be an anachronism as it makes no allowance for the growing practice of ‘citizen journalism’, unheard of when the law was first written.