Newspapers warned over contempt law

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The Attorney General warned newspapers today to be mindful of the contempt of court laws in their coverage of Joanna Yeates murder suspect Chris Jefferies.

Dominic Grieve indicated he was considering what action he should take to ensure that the course of justice was not impeded in any way.

"We need to avoid a situation where trials cannot take place or are prejudiced as a result of irrelevant or improper material being published, whether in print form or on the internet, in such a way that a trial becomes impossible," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

Asked whether he was preparing to issue an advisory notice to newspapers, he said: "Clearly, we are considering what I have seen in the newspapers today and we will try to take such action, and it is right to ensure that the course of justice is not in any way impeded."

Mr Grieve stressed that there was "freedom of the press", but newspapers have to comply with the Contempt of Court Act to avoid prejudicing possible future trials.

His comments come amid heavy media scrutiny of Jefferies, who was arrested yesterday on suspicion of murder.

"I don't want to comment on the precise coverage today, but I think it's important to understand that the contempt of court rules are there to protect the rule of law and the fair trial process and they require newspapers, and indeed anyone who is covering material, to do that in a way that doesn't prejudice the possibility of a fair trial taking place at a later date," Mr Grieve said.

The Attorney General - the Government's top law officer - added that newspapers were "pretty familiar" with the contempt of court rules.

"In those circumstances I would simply ask them to reflect carefully on how they provide proper coverage on a matter of public importance while at the same time, mindful of how our legal system works, they can also ensure that a trial process - if one were ever to happen - would not be prejudiced by material being published that may be irrelevant to any case that comes before the court but could be seriously prejudicial to an individual who is standing trial.

"That is the key issue that needs to be considered."