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Court Cases: Media Comment

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 1 July 2021

What steps he has taken to help ensure that court cases are not prejudiced by inappropriate (a) reporting by the media and (b) comment by the public. (902030)

The question has been withdrawn, but I will ask the Attorney General to provide an answer, then I will call Kenny MacAskill to ask his supplementary.

In order to avoid prejudice to criminal proceedings, I may issue what is called a media advisory notice in order to inform and ensure responsible media coverage. I have launched a campaign called #thinkbeforeyoupost to promote awareness of the risks of ill-judged social media posts. It is critical that the evidence is tested before a jury—any evidence should be tested before a jury—in a court of law and not in the court of public opinion.

In a recent Scottish case, a High Court judge suggested that offences by a blogger were to be dealt with differently from similar breaches by mainstream media. Given that most, if not all, of the recent serious breaches have been carried out by the mainstream media, and given moreover that the press and media are evolutionary, with many of the current mainstream media once themselves having been radical outsiders supporting, for example, universal franchise, does the Attorney General agree that while bloggers rightly require to be held to account, they are equally entitled to the protections that apply to the rest of the mainstream media?

Everyone is equal under the law. In general, the media are responsible and are very much aware of reporting restrictions, the limitations on reporting of active proceedings, and what reporting might amount to a contempt of court. As I said, I do issue and have issued media advisory notices where that is not happening and in exceptional cases. The hon. Gentleman’s point about bloggers and others on social media is a live one. It is right that everyone is aware that whether they have training or not, they are responsible under the law for what they post. Interfering in, prejudicing or undermining court proceedings is a serious matter and can be visited with a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment.