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'Scandalising' law to be reviewed

'Scandalising' law to be reviewed

Law Commission | Law Commission

2 min read Partner content

The offence of "scandalising the court" is to be reviewed after the Northern Ireland Attorney General attempted to use it against Labour politician Peter Hain.

In March Mr Hain was threatened with prosecution and up to two years in prison for describing a senior Northern Irish judge as "off his rocker" in his memoirs.

NI Attorney General John Larkin said Mr Hain's remarks "create without justification a real risk that public confidence in the judicial system will be undermined".

However, the attempt to use the arcane law was heavily criticised as an attack on free speech and the prosecution was dropped.

The Law Commission has announced a new consultation on whether the offence of scandalising the court is still necessary or should be consigned to history.

The offence has not been successfully prosecuted in England and Wales since 1931.

It is regarded as ambiguous and vague and may not be compatible with the right to free speech guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

"The aim of the Commission’s consultation is to ask whether scandalising the court is still necessary in modern society in England and Wales," the Commission said.

"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. It also seeks views on whether, in the alternative, the law should it be replaced – and if so, with what kind of offence."

The consultation paper, Contempt of Court: Scandalising the Court, is available on the Commission’s website: www.lawcom.gov.uk. The consultation closes on 5 October 2012.

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