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Call to publish court restrictions online

Call to publish court restrictions online

Law Commission | Law Commission

2 min read Partner content

A new online service should be established to help journalists and bloggers stay within contempt of court restrictions, the Law Commission has said.

In a report published today, the Commissionrecommends that court reporting postponement orders are posted on a single website, making it easy for potential publishers to establish whether an order is in force.

A similar website currently operates in Scotland.

The website would include a restricted area where, for a charge, registered users could find out the detail of the reporting restriction and sign up for automated email alerts of new orders.

Professor David Ormerod QC, the Law Commissioner leading the project, said: “Transparency is central to our justice system, but the public’s right to know and the right to freedom of expression must be balanced with the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

“Media organisations tell us they struggle to find out whether reporting restrictions are in force and, if so, what the terms are. The current notification system is unreliable and inconsistently applied. It leaves publishers – be they large media organisations or individual citizen journalists – at risk of contempt and may restrict their ability to report proceedings.

To protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial, the judge has the power to order that specific information is not disclosed to the jury.

In exceptional circumstances, to prevent the jury from discovering that information in the media, the judge can impose reporting restrictions, postponing publication until the end of the trial and sometimes longer.

At the moment, there is no formal system for notifying potential publishers that a restriction is in force or why, but publishers who breach a restriction risk being prosecuted for contempt of court.

The Commissionran a pilot to assess the impact of gathering and publishing reporting restriction notices, which suggests that the costs of such a scheme to the public purse would be modest.

“By enabling publishers to establish easily and accurately that a reporting restriction is in force, our solution would greatly reduce their risk of contempt and enable them to comply with the court’s restrictions or report proceedings to the public with confidence," said Professor Ormerod.

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