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Scandalising court law may be axed


The crime of scandalising a court may be consigned to history as the law's independent review body opens a consultation today.

The offence can currently be committed if someone does or publishes anything that ridicules the judiciary to such an extent that it is likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

This might include, for example, being extremely offensive towards a member of the judiciary or suggesting they are corrupt.

The Law Commission will open a consultation today asking whether the offence, a form of contempt of court, is still necessary.

The offence has not been successfully prosecuted in England and Wales since 1931 and questions have been asked about its suitability.

Firstly, the law in this area is known to be ambiguous and the offence may not be compatible with the right to free speech guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

In addition, most of the activities covered by the offence could be dealt with in other ways - for example by using the law of libel or, if the activity was particularly serious, bringing criminal charges for other offences, the commission said.

Some people have questioned why the judiciary should be offered special protection, they said.

The aim of the consultation is to ask whether the law is necessary in modern society in England and Wales. The commission's provisional view is that it should be abolished.

The Law Commission is a non-political independent body set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.