Contempt of Court: Media Reporting

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

What steps she is taking to prevent media reporting which may lead to contempt of court.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

What steps she is taking to prevent conventional and social media reporting which may lead to contempt of court; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Solicitor-General

Reporting by the press or on social media may sometimes present a risk of prejudice to criminal proceedings. It is important to protect due process and the right to a fair trial. In my role as guardian of the public interest, I can and have issued media advisory notices. This is important in order to inform responsible reporting to avoid prejudice to ongoing criminal proceedings.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Does the Solicitor General agree that on the whole the press does act responsibly and is swift to act in relation to material that may be prejudicial to court proceedings?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend is right, and it is right to acknowledge that the press is on the whole very responsible in its reporting of court proceedings, which is why issuing a media advisory notice is an exceptional course of action. In the past 12 months, I have only done that twice. However, it remains an important power, which will be used if necessary.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Journalists get training, but the average person does not know about contempt of court and we get contempt of court through social media, so what can the Solicitor General’s Department do to try to educate people when they might be doing just that inadvertently?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Solicitor-General

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. That is quite right and he makes an important point about social media and the risk of contempt of court. My office has prepared and promoted materials available online to inform the general public, including slides and web pages, and I entirely agree that an emphasis on education is important to ensure that members of the public do not inadvertently publish prejudicial material online, because doing so can have serious consequences.