Scandalising court law could be scrapped
10 August 2012
The days of the scandalising court law may be numbered as a review is to be carried out to determine whether or not it should be scrapped.
The offence is committed when someone does or publishes anything that ridicules the judiciary to the extent that it is likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute. However, with nobody having been successfully prosecuted for it in England and Wales since 1931, its necessity has been called into question.
The Law Commission will open a consultation on the law today.
Behaviour which might constitute the offence includes acting in an extremely offensive way to a judge or accusing them of corruption.
A journalist was charged with scandalising court in 1900 for calling a judge an "impudent little man in horsehair, a microcosm of conceit and empty-headedness".
The law may however be axed due to its vagueness and its incompatibility with both the right of free speech and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Commission says that misdemeanours covered by the offence could be dealt with by means of other laws, while opponents of the law say that special protection should not be granted to the judiciary.
The Law Commission is going into the consultation with the provisional view is that the law should be abolished. The consultation will run until 10 October.
Although no successful prosecutions have been made for over 80 years, the Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain was accused of the offence in May of this year for comments made about a judge in his memoirs. The charges were however dropped after he wrote to the Northern Irish Attorney general to clarify the remarks.