An online service to make journalists and bloggers aware of reporting restrictions should be set up to protect defendants’ right to a fair trial, the Law Commission says today. 

In a report Contempt of Court: reducing the publisher’s risk of breaching court reporting restrictions, the commission recommends that England and Wales adopt the Scottish practice of posting court reporting postponement orders on a single website, making it easy for publishers to establish whether an order is in force. 

The service would be open to all publishers, from large media organisations to individual bloggers. 

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.

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

Professor David Ormerod QC, the law commissioner leading the project, said the current notification system is ‘unreliable and inconsistently applied’, leaving publishers, both large media organisations or individual citizen journalists, at risk of contempt. 

‘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,’ he said. 

‘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 Ormerod.

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