A worse contempt of court

Last week I blogged about contempt of court and how the principle of it was being ignored by the main daily newspapers in this country in terms of allowing comments on active cases.

A couple of people, including David Banks, the editor of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists, agreed that it was technically a breach of the Contempt of Court Act. However, they added that in practice no prosecution was likely from the Attorney General as the allegation against John Terry was a summary offence which would not be tried by jury.

I agree however, my main point remains that, at a time in which the press is under huge scrutiny, it is advisable to adhere to all laws and, perhaps more relevant here, the spirit of the law.

So here's the thing today.

Four of nine of the main English nationals are allowing comments containing references to Harry's Redknapp's appearance today at Southwark Crown Court in relation to charges of tax evasion.

I spotted it first on the Independent so thought I would check out all. My methodology was to check any stories on today's websites containing references to Redknapp's appearance in court. Some sites had specific stories, some mentioned it in reports of yesterday's match between Spurs and Man City, and some gave no mention at all.

In journalism we like to have goodies and baddies so let me break it down:


* Daily Mail - no comments allowed

* Daily Telegraph - no comments allowed

* The Sun - no story on the tax evasion (surely the fact that Harry's a Sun columnist can have nothing to do with this?)

* The Guardian - no comments allowed

* The Daily Star - no comments allowed


* Daily Mirror - comments allowed, no pre-moderation

* The Times (no link - paywall) - no comments on the main story about the court case but comments allowed on the Balotelli story, which contains a reference to today's court case. Some comments casting doubt on Redknapp's character, despite the fact they are, in theory, pre-moderated

* The Express - comments allowed, no pre-moderation

* The Independent - comments allowed, no pre-moderation and several clear breaches of the CCA.

Let's be clear that this is no summary offence. This is an indictable offence which will be heard before a jury a body of 12 good men (and women) the Attorney General is always keen to protect.

My point from last week doesn't just stand. It stands proud, gleaming smugly in the sunshine.

If newspapers cannot be trusted to get the basics right - how can editors argue long and hard against statutory regulation?

UPDATE: The Daily Mirror removed the comment facility by 11.45am on 23.01.12

UPDATE: The Independent removed all comments referring Redknapp's court appearance by 1.16pm on 23.01.12


  1. I notice comments are allowed here! Seriously though, since discussion often happens away from the main article, e.g. Twitter/Facebook/etc then I find our whole concept of contempt unsettling.

    Discussion will happen, and the ideal of a "clinical examination of the facts" of British justice is not really fit for a modern age. In fact it could positively damage justice.

    It could damage justice if we pretend discussion doesn't happen when in reality it does. Furthermore it often goes on outside the jurisdiction of the court.

    So whilst the US model is abhorrent to many people (trial by media) at least it acknowledges the reality of what's going on and allows defence and prosecution attorneys to tackle points made in the media with counter-arguments.

    1. I allow comments but will moderate for any legal breach immediately.

      While much of what you say is logical - the Digital Revolution and the social web is changing so much but the law is what the law is. If these papers want it changed then they should lobby to have changed rather than taking potshots.

      Having said that I don't even think these are challenges to the law, they are simply cock-ups which demonstrates a lack of care on the part of a professional publisher.