The Law Commission of England and Wales has been asked by the government to review the 'disordered and unclear' law on contempt of court and consider ways to improve its effectiveness, consistency, and coherence. Among the possibilities is codification. 

Announcing the study today, the commission said the 'development of the law of contempt has been unsystematic, resulting in a regime that is often disordered and unclear'. Problems arise from the confusing distinction between civil and criminal contempt of court, the multiple ways in which contempt can be committed, and the overlap between the law of contempt and criminal offences such as perverting the course of justice. 

Concerns are also growing about the impact of social media and technological advancements on the administration of justice, the statement said. 

The Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office have asked the commission in particular to consider:

  • Codification and simplification of the law of contempt, and the extent to which certain contempts should be defined as criminal offences;
  • The responsibility for the adjudication, investigation and prosecution of contempts, as well as courts’ and tribunals’ powers and protections relating to contempt proceedings;
  • The effectiveness of the current provisions on committing contempt by publishing information on court proceedings, including consideration of the right to freedom of expression protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • The appropriateness of penalties; and
  • whether problems might arise from procedure in contempt of court proceedings, and whether there is scope for improving procedural rules.

Professor Penney Lewis, the commissioner for criminal law, said: 'The law on contempt of court is essential to preventing interference in the administration of justice and upholding the rule of law, but the many laws governing it are outdated, unclear and at times in conflict. Our review will examine how the law of contempt can be simplified and modernised, to create a regime that responds fairly and proportionately to those who undermine the legal process.'

A consultation paper seeking views will be published at the end of this year. 


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