Monthly Archives: November 2012

Law Commission recommends overhaul of contempt laws

The Law Commission is to launch a consultation paper on proposals to reform the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and the common law offence of contempt of court. The Commission believes that changes are required in order for the law to keep up with technological advances and, in particular, the spread of social media. Careless blogging or tweeting can result in juries being discharged and subsequent expensive retrials. One proposal is to pass the cost of retrials on to the responsible party. It is understood that the Commission will also propose a uniform process across all criminal courts.

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stalking becomes a criminal offence

On 25 November 2012, section 111 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 came into force.  This creates two specific offences: ‘stalking’, and ‘stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress’. The provision has inserted the offences into the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The former offence carries a maximum prison sentence of six months, the latter of five years.

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Dawn of the Twibel – how safe is it to tweet?

It remains to be seen how many individuals Lord McAlpine will pursue for tweets falsely linking him to allegations of child abuse. Press reports suggest that he may seek damages from 20 high profile tweeters. However, his lawyers RMPI solicitors have indicated that they have a list of up to 10,000 Twitter users (‘tweeters’), who ‘tweeted’ or ‘re-tweeted’ potentially defamatory statements – including ‘tweets’ which have been deleted. RMPI’s website invites tweeters with less than 500 followers to identify themselves and complete a questionnaire; they will then be invited to make a donation to charity and to pay a small administrative charge. The amount being sought is not yet known. Presumably, if an individual agrees to pay the sum sought their twitter user name will be crossed off the records RMPI hold and they will be eliminated as a potential defendant.

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BBC agrees to pay Lord McAlpine £185,000 damages and legal costs

The BBC has agreed to pay Lord McAlpine £185,000 in damages, together with legal costs, following a Newsnight broadcast on 2 November 2012 which led to the peer wrongly being implicated in the alleged sexual abuse of children at north Wales care homes in the 1970s and 1980s. Lord McAlpine was not mentioned by name in the Newsnight broadcast, but had been identified  on Twitter prior to transmission.

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