Skip to main content

Law of Contempt

Volume 556: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2013

6. Whether implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson report will affect the enforcement of laws of contempt. (135619)

Lord Justice Leveson has provided detailed recommendations on how best the press might be regulated in future. Those recommendations and their implementation will be considered by the Government and Parliament. Whichever regulatory model is finally chosen, the law of contempt remains applicable. When appropriate, I will continue to bring proceedings against publications that create a substantial risk that the course of justice in proceedings will be seriously impeded or prejudiced.

What consideration has the Attorney-General given to Lord Leveson’s view that further guidance is needed on press coverage of police investigations and that

“save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances…the names…of those…arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press or the public”?

I have noted what Lord Justice Leveson has said and it may be something to be incorporated in press regulation. The current position on the law of contempt is that proceedings are active from the time of arrest. Those considerations are not identical to those that Lord Justice Leveson was considering, but they raise the issue that after arrest the press has to have in mind the possible impact on the fairness of the trial process thereafter. That could include naming a suspect; equally, it might be perfectly acceptable to do that.

There is continuing concern, nevertheless, about the almost habitual naming of suspects after arrest, which in the minds of many of us has the potential to cause real prejudice. Will my right hon. and learned Friend do all he can to monitor the current situation and ensure that the law is prosecuted to its full effect?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am certainly mindful that in many of the contempt matters brought to my attention the problem has arisen in the period between arrest and charge. Of course, if the House were minded to change the law on anonymity, which has been floated previously in private Members’ business, that could be done by enacting legislation. However, let me make it quite clear that this would need a legislative solution, not one that I can in some way “magic up”. The law of contempt has to be applied free of all political considerations, and that is what I try to do as best I can.

I would not want the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) to feel socially excluded, so we will accommodate him, but he needs to be very brief.