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Law of Contempt

Volume 575: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2014

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on reform of the law of contempt. (902542)

I met the Justice Secretary recently to discuss proposals for reforming the law of contempt. The proposals will implement recommendations that were made by the Law Commission and have been included in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. I strongly support the reforms, which include the creation of criminal offences for jury misconduct. If enacted, the legislation will reform the contempt law that is applicable to publication contempt, with the aim of providing greater clarity and certainty for the media and the courts about when material that is published online should be removed when proceedings are active.

What success has my right hon. and learned Friend had in prosecuting jurors who ignore judges’ pre-trial advice, particularly with regard to the unlawful use of social media?

Since coming to office, the Solicitor-General, his predecessor, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), and I have successfully instituted proceedings against five jurors. Four of those cases involved the misuse of the internet, including using the internet to conduct research. In two of those cases, social media were used to commit the contempt. As a result of those proceedings, judicial directions to jurors have been revised and strengthened. The purpose of those prosecutions is to send out a clear message about the unacceptability of such behaviour and, thereby, to ensure that further prosecutions are not necessary. By turning it into a straightforward criminal offence, we will make quite clear the gravity of the matter, while also providing statutory defences.

We will hear very shortly from the man in the conker-coloured suit. I look forward to that, as does the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment.