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Law on Contempt

Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2012

In February 2011, an undertaking was given to the House that I would conduct an informal review of the law on contempt. As part of that process, I started consultations with various interested parties. However, my review has been overtaken by recent developments: Lord Neuberger’s report on super-injunctions, the Leveson inquiry and, of particular significance, the Law Commission’s review of the law on contempt. This last is a detailed and comprehensive formal review and the commission’s findings will doubtless inform what, if any, action is required from the Government.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that jurors are made aware of the sanctity of the jury room at the start of their jury service, and that possible offences under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, including use of social media, will be followed up?

Yes, I share my hon. Friend’s concern. The judiciary makes it clear to jurors that they must respect the sanctity of the jury room and avoid research on the internet. That message has been reinforced by a number of contempt proceedings that I have brought, including in the cases of Mrs Fraill, who revealed details of the jury’s deliberations, and Dr Dallas, who conducted research on the internet. Both received terms of imprisonment. I can also confirm that yesterday, the president of the Queen’s bench division issued a protocol on jury irregularities, which provides guidance to the judiciary and practitioners on how best to address contempt committed by jurors.