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10.08.12

Law Commission to consider whether offence of scandalising the Court should be abolished

The offence of scandalising the court dates back to 1765.  Under the law it is an offence to be extremely offensive to a judge or accuse him/her of corruption.  The offence is a form of contempt of court and includes the publication of material or the carrying out of acts likely to undermine the administration of justice or public confidence therein.  It usually takes the form of scurrilous abuse of the judiciary or the imputation of improper motives.  It is distinct from other forms of contempt such as the publication of prejudicial material, misbehaviour in court and breach of jury confidentiality.

The statute is now to be reviewed by the Law Commission following concerns that it is not compatible with the right to freedom of expression afforded by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  In May 2012 Peter Hain (the former Northern Ireland secretary) was accused of committing the offence having criticised a Belfast judge in his autobiography.  Mr Hain wrote to the Attorney General of Northern Ireland clarifying the remarks and the charge was not pursued.  The offence has not been successfully prosecuted since 1931.

The Law Commission is to run a consultation on the matter between 10 August and 5 October.  Details can be found by following the below link:-

http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/consultations/scandalising.htm


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