Contempt of Court Act

What is the Contempt of Court Act

After the ECHR ruled that English contempt law breached article 10 of the convention parliament enacted the Contempt of Court Act 1981. It prohibits the media from publishing information that will prejudice ongoing legal cases and in particular trials before juries.

The primary function of the Contempt of Court Act is to protect the integrity of active court proceedings. Following the ECHR ruling the Contempt of Court Act was drawn up with the aim of increasing the personal freedom of speech.

A strict liability rule is introduced by the Act. Under this rule any conduct that interferes with the course of justice can be treated as contempt of court even when there was no intention to interfere. This rule applies only to publications i.e. any form of communication addressed to any section of the public or the public at large.

There are two limitations on when the Contempt of Court Act applies These are:

  • It only applies when a publication carries a substantial risk of seriously prejudicing justice in the proceedings, and
  • It applies only to publications when proceedings are active.

Proceedings cease to be active upon:

  • acquittal or sentence
  • any verdict which puts an end to the proceedings being reached
  • a discontinuation of the proceedings

There are both civil and criminal components to the Act. The criminal offence of Contempt of Court carries a gaol sentence of up to two year and an unlimited fine.

It should be noted that the Contempt of Court Act applies solely to court cases in the UK.

Anonymity under The Contempt of Court Act 1981

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