Proceedings against publishers and jury members should be the very ‘last measure’ taken where contempt of court is alleged, the judiciary has said in its response to a law commission consultation.
The response’s authors, Lord Justice Treacy and Mr Justice Tugendhat, said that any measure likely to increase the use of proceedings for contempt against members of a jury might ‘undermine the trust which must exist between judge and jury’.
Mobile phones and other internet-enabled devices should not ‘automatically be removed from jurors whilst they are at court’, the response says. However they should never be allowed to enter the jury’s deliberating room.
The consultation, which closed on 28 February, was prompted by several high-profile cases including that of a juror who researched the defendant on the internet and the vilification of innocent Chris Jefferies during the investigation into the murder of Joanna Yeates.
The consultation acknowledged that new media poses challenges to the existing laws on contempt of court, which pre-date the internet age. There are also concerns that some aspects of the current law relating to contempt of court may be unclear or incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular the article 10 right to freedom of expression.
Accordingly, the consultation proposes a number of reforms, which the Law Commission says are intended to make the law fair, understandable and practicable.