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Contempt Of Court

Volume 940: debated on Monday 28 November 1977

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52.

asked the Attorney-General whether he will seek as early as possible to clarify the law relating to contempt of court by the media when a retrial of a criminal case has been ordered.

When the retrial of a criminal case has been ordered, the ordinary rules of contempt of court apply so that prejudicial comment may amount to a contempt. The Phillimore Committee recommended no change on this point.

Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we have reached an absurd situation. There was the recent case involving the Newcastle Journal, and again only recently there was another case involving my own newspaper in Stafford, the Stafford Newsletter, when the unfortunate editor was dragged before a court and told that he was in contempt. I have sent the papers to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Quite clearly, as Lord Justice Lawton recommended in 1969, the law should be changed. As it stands, the law is erratic and totally capricious. I hope that there will be a change as soon as possible.

The matter involving the Newcastle Journal is now sub judice. I have applied for the Divisional Court to consider the matter. That is the proper way of doing it. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is uncertainty about this aspect of the law. That is the very reason why I have asked for that matter to go before the Divisional Court for clarification.

I should like to thank the House for its co-operation at Question Time. We have covered a much larger field.