Law commission

Government asks Law Commission to conduct review of contempt of court law

The government has asked the Law Commission of England and Wales to carry out a review of the contempt of court law, fearing it is “messy and unclear”.

Codifying and simplifying contempt law and clarifying responsibility for trying, investigating and prosecuting contempt will be some of the areas examined by the review, according to the government advisory body on legislative reform.

Overall, the review will seek to uncover potential areas for reform to improve its effectiveness, coherence and consistency, the Commission said.

He noted that the development of the law of contempt had been “unsystematic, resulting in an often messy and unclear regime”.

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The problems with the current law stem from the confusing distinction between civil and criminal contempt of court, the multiple ways in which contempt can be committed, and the overlap between contempt law and criminal administrative offenses. of justice, such as perversion of the course of justice, the Commission added.

There are also growing concerns about the impact of social media and technological advances on the administration of justice.

The Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General have asked the Law Commission to review the law on both criminal and civil contempt and, in particular, to examine:

  • codification and simplification of the law of contempt, and the extent to which certain contempts should be criminalized;
  • the responsibility for adjudicating, investigating and prosecuting contempt, and the powers and protections of courts and tribunals relating to contempt proceedings;
  • the effectiveness of current contempt provisions through the publication of information about court proceedings, including taking into account the right to freedom of expression protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights man ;
  • the appropriateness of sentences for contempt of court; and
  • whether procedural problems could arise from contempt proceedings and whether the relevant procedural rules could be improved.

Commenting on the launch of the Contempt of Court Project, Professor Penney Lewis, Legal Commissioner for Criminal Law, said contempt of court law is “essential to prevent interference in the administration of justice and uphold the rule of law, but the many laws that govern it are outdated, unclear and sometimes contradictory”.

She added: “Our review will look at how contempt law can be streamlined and modernized, to create a regime that responds fairly and proportionately to those who undermine the judicial process.”

Nicholas Paines QC, Law Commissioner for Public Law and Law in Wales, said: “There must be a mechanism in the law to ensure that the courts – from the highest courts to the tribunals – are able to monitor their procedures and enforce their compliance in a timely manner. This review will consider whether there are appropriate powers to achieve this objective.”

The Commission aims to publish a consultation document at the end of 2022, seeking views on its draft reform proposals.