Contempt of court law protects the integrity of the legal process from outside influence. There are various types of possible reporting restrictions, some of which apply automatically while others are at the discretion of the court. One of its key aims of reporting restrictions is to prevent the publication of material which might prejudice a fair trial by influencing jurors to think that a defendant might be guilty. You can also commit a contempt of court by, for example, interviewing a witness before a trial or even by putting pressure on them to provide an interview after the trial.
- In law you are in contempt if a publication creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice to proceedings and proceedings are active.
- You aren’t allowed to report a person’s previous convictions.
- You are in contempt if you publish material that might prejudice a fair trial which might sway a juror’s mind.
- You’re in contempt if you breach a court order such as a Section 39 order on a child.
- It is contempt of court to take pictures inside a court room or tape proceedings.
- In contempt if you identify a juror.
- It is contempt of court to pay witnesses for stories who are due to appear in an up and coming trial.
Common law contempt is publishing material which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice to proceedings which are imminent or pending, with the intention of creating that task or interfering with the administration of justice. You would breach it by being reckless, by publishing an interview with a witness during a trial.
Strict liability contempt is simply publishing material which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice to active proceedings. The court decides if the publication has created the risk regardless of the writer’s motives.
Proceedings start when:
- A person is arrested.
- A warrant for arrest has been issued.
- A summons is issued.
- A person is charged.
Contempt of court ends when:
- A person is released without charge.
- No arrest has been made within 12 months of a warrant being issued.
- The case is discontinued.
- The defendant is acquitted or sentenced.
- The defendant was found unfit to be tried.
- The court has ordered the charge to lie on file.
The term ‘substantial risk’ allows us to publish facts a distance before the trial because it is likely the jury will forget what they have heard.
When a person has pleaded guilty or being convicted you can safely publish facts about them, even though proceedings are still active , because you cannot influence a judge.
Under Section Three of the Contempt of Court Act the media is given protection for breaching the act if they did not know proceedings were active and had taken all reasonable precautions before going to print.
Also, if the police appeal for information to catch an offender.