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Media Prosecutions (Guidelines)

Volume 551: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2012

5. What changes he expects following the publication of the Director of Public Prosecution’s final guidelines for prosecutors in cases involving the media. (122179)

The guidelines issued on 13 September by the DPP should ensure a more consistent approach by prosecutors and provide transparency to the public over how such cases are handled.

Weighing the competing elements of public interest and criminality in this area of the media will always be a nuanced matter. Is my right hon. and learned Friend confident that the new guidelines bring greater clarity to prosecutors and will lead to increased robustness in decision making?

Yes, I am. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the guidelines arose from a response by the DPP to the Leveson inquiry and from evidence he gave before it. Essentially, the guidelines encapsulate in a transparent fashion the practice of the CPS in this area. I therefore have every confidence that they provide, and will continue to provide, a robust application of the law. There is no special law for journalists in this context, but there are public interest considerations which, as the DPP has shown in the guidelines, will be taken into account.

As I read the guidelines, it is unlikely that they will make much difference to two of the ways in which social media have been horrifyingly used for criminal purposes. One is paedophiles using Twitter and the other—perhaps not criminal, but certainly shocking to large numbers of our constituents—is the use of YouTube to mock Islam. What more has the Attorney-General done to prevent that kind of crime, as opposed to prosecuting it?

Crime committed on social media is crime. I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that if there are examples of criminal behaviour taking place on social media—incitement, sex crimes or incitement to religious or racial hatred—it is for the police to investigate initially, as she will appreciate. However, if that evidence is then brought to the Crown Prosecution Service, it would be surprising if it were not in the public interest to bring a prosecution. As she will be aware, there are already instances of individuals who have committed crime on social media having been successfully prosecuted.