Anorak News | Are Contempt Laws Valid For Baby P And Jon Venables In The Facebook Age?

Are Contempt Laws Valid For Baby P And Jon Venables In The Facebook Age?

by | 19th, October 2010

ARE the UK’s contempt laws still valid in the era of Twitter, blogs and websites, when names of the accused are leaked? Leaked information on the innocent-until-proven-otherwise defendant can prejudice a court case and kill an investigation. If you were on a jury trial would you not look up the name of the accused online and do some research? Jurors are no longer housed in hotels and instructed not to read the press.

Rosenberg makes mention of Baby P, whose mother Tracey Connelly was outed in the website of the London Paper, a now defunct free newspaper. Jon Venables’ new identity is known to many.

Dominic Grieve QC, addressed the Kalisher lecture to the Criminal Bar Association on Tuesday. Joshua Rozenberg surmises:

The government’s senior legal adviser acknowledged the problems that can arise now that damaging information may circulate so freely. In the Baby P case, a judge had banned the identification of three people convicted of causing the death of Peter Connelly because two of them were subsequently due to stand trial for another offence.

Peter Connelly’s mother, Tracey Connelly was known to anyone with an internet connection well before her conviction. Websites named the mother; newspapers and mainstream media, in the main, did not.

Says Grieve:

“It was not long before their identities were being distributed on social network sites, external websites and even via text messages with an instruction to pass them on.”

But how can it be stopped? Times change:

Is it still possible to keep information from the public when websites such as Wikileaks seem to be beyond reach of the law? Little more than 20 years ago, in those far-off days before the internet, the UK’s highest court saw some point in banning publication in Britain of a former MI5 officer’s memoirs even though Spycatcher was on sale in the United States and anyone could bring a copy into Britain.

Nowadays, the information in a US-published book would be regarded as being in the public domain and no court would block reports of it.

The media wants to attract readers and inform. It would be remiss not to mention such a book. But the media is no insensitive to law. If publishing the name of a person in say, a paedophile trial helped that person evade justice by successfully arguing that such reporting was prejudicial, the media would have failed.

Says Rozenberg:

It is hard to believe that the 27-year-old man formerly known as Jon Venables could have received a fair trial this summer on charges of downloading child pornography if a jury had known that, at the age of 10, he had murdered James Bulger. In the event, the man we know as Venables pleaded guilty and his new name was not published by reporters who heard it read out in court. I have forgotten it already.

Grieve adds:

He suggested that those who ran blogs on which the public posted comments might be under an obligation to avoid prejudicing trials. He did not explain how the authorities could tell these sites what information was covered by court orders without running the risk that this information would become public as result. His hope was that people would understand the importance of not prejudicing a fair trial.

Weigh that against a craving to expose and get a Facebook together to demand swift and instant justice and Grieve is dreaming. In the internet age, the public like their villains delivered fast and despatched without delay…

Posted: 19th, October 2010 | In: Reviews Comments (7) | TrackBack | Permalink