back to article A tweet too far: UK contempt law reform push begins

The Law Commission opened public consultation on contempt and the internet today, after the Attorney General confirmed last week that the matter was to be reviewed in the wake of recent high-profile contempt cases that originated online. The views of English and Welsh citizens will be sought about the 31-year-old Contempt of …


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  1. Tony Humphreys

    Careful now ...

    If there is to be different rules for tweets (micro publishing), then how will be know who has different rules to follow. This is dangerous as this situation shouts accreditation for the press (one set of rules for professional publishers), and another set of rules for amateur publishers. Who awards accreditation? The state?

    I think we need a sense of proportion here and resist the temptation to separate the press from the rest of us - that is a much greater evil than the amateur mistakes by a few with very little reach. We need fewer laws and more discretion by the police, judges etc.

    Ms Bercow, being the Speaker of the House of Commons wife, living in the House of Commons, and constantly in the press, should have known better though.

    1. teebie

      Re: Careful now ...

      Different rules based on audience size?

      So Sally Bercow, with her 60,000 audience has to be more careful than Little Jimmy Blahblah who usuals restricts himself to telling his 10 followers what he had for lunch.

      If we give discretion to the police, judges etc they will use it to, say, arrest people for tweeting jokes about airports, while leaving the big/difficult targets alone.

  2. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

    One of the reasons I would probably deny any jury duty

    Because I would feel obliged to seek more information.

    1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

      Re: One of the reasons I would probably deny any jury duty

      You can't deny jury duty

      You are summoned by the court and you'd bloody well better be there or they'll treat you more harshly than most of the muggers, violent thugs and burglars that you'd get to hear tried.

      1. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

        Re: One of the reasons I would probably deny any jury duty

        I guess it helps I'm not in the UK. I would assume you would still need to get selected in a pre-selection process or something.

        1. Corinne
          Black Helicopters

          Re: One of the reasons I would probably deny any jury duty

          Pre-selection consists of being on the list of ALL eligible adult UK citizens, some of the criteria I think are being resident in the UK, over 18 & under a certain age (I think it's 65), not currently imprisoned for any offence, not workng in certain occupations or were in those occupations in the last few years, certifiably mentally ill. If you've been called and served on a jury you get a few years exemption too. Otherwise you get called randomly and have to have a damned good reason to get out of it.

          I worked in a government laboratory & got an 8 year exemption from the date I left, and was called 8 years & 6 months later. A relative has had to serve 3 times despite being only 41 - every time her post-serving exemption was up she was called within 6 months. A know a load of people who have never been called. So it does seem pretty random.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: One of the reasons I would probably deny any jury duty

        Officially the right of the police to object to jurors was dropped - but the Socialist worker online store (????) has a few T-shirts that should ensure that somehow you are never picked.

    2. Martin

      Re: One of the reasons I would probably deny any jury duty

      As has been pointed out, you can't "deny" jury duty.

      But why would you want to? It's an important role, which should be taken very seriously.

      And you should NOT "feel obliged" to seek more information. That would not be your job,

      It's the job of the prosecution to find sufficient evidence to prove the case. It is the job of the defence to try to convince you, the jury, that the case is not proven. It is your job, based on the evidence provided, and NOTHING ELSE, to decide whether the case has been proven or not,.

      It astounds me that people think that they'll find out something important about the case by doing a quick surf on the internet. If it is important, you may be sure that the prosecution or defence will have already picked it over. You are much more likely to find out something which has been deemed prejudicial to a fair trial - and the most likely scenario if you find this information is a mistrial and a massive waste of public money.

      1. Corinne

        Re: One of the reasons I would probably deny any jury duty

        Completely agree on not wanting to find out more about the case. However there can be good reasons for wanting to "deny" attending Jury Service, personal cost being the main one. The allowance they pay does NOT allow for your personal losses if you're in an occupation where you get paid by the day e.g. contracting, or you run a small retail business where you have to pay staff for cover. The allowance for travel can also leave you out of pocket as you can only clain public transport costs (with receipts I think) or mileage, cost of parking a car all day won't be covered & some places that can be in double figures - and don't suggest only use public transport, only time I was called it took 30 mins by car & would have been over 2 hours each way public transport!

  3. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Oh FFS

    Its not difficult. The same rules apply regardless of the nature of the publishing.

    If as a Jury member you dont go looking for newspapers you behave the same way online.

    Ditto for Posting defamatory or similar material. You wouldn't go down to the street corner and hand out notices saying your neighbour is a pedo with no proof why would you do so online.

    This is about people taking responsibility for their actions regardless or transmission or publishing. Jail em all I say until they get the message. (and no this is not a free speech arguement so dont even go there)

    1. philbo

      Re: Oh FFS

      It's a bit more complicated than that - ISTM that the problem we're seeing now is exemplified by the tweeting twit, Sally Bercow: things that are mentioned as one might down the pub with your mates - possibly after a drink or two - with no thought about exactly what you're saying and to whom.. these things can be picked up and passed on by thousands (though I do feel more than a bit exasperated by hearing that Ms Bercow has tens of thousands of people hanging on her every tweet - they can't all be journalists waiting for The Speaker's Wife to make (yet) another faux pas).

      You wouldn't "go down to the street corner and hand out notices saying your neighbour is a pedo with no proof", but in an unguarded moment, you might very easily make a joke about him that someone else might take as such and a rumour is born.. sites like twitter combined with smartphones which mean you can text your mate's "joke" that was so very funny down the pub after a few pints... I think the law does need to be updated to reflect this state, and let's face it there aren't enough jail places in the universe to lock up everyone who says something dodgy when under the influence.

      1. moiety

        Re: Oh FFS

        Simple technological solution: Build breathalysers into phones. Blow & tweet, and the alcohol content of your breath is automatically published alongside the tweet. That would save the courts a few quid and would automatically give most journalists the exemption they are looking for.

        1. teebie

          Re: Oh FFS

          "Build breathalysers into phones"

          That would be the answer to a great many of life's problems, but not this one.

      2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

        Re: Oh FFS

        "the problem we're seeing now is exemplified by the tweeting twit, Sally Bercow: things that are mentioned as one might down the pub with your mates - possibly after a drink or two - with no thought about exactly what you're saying and to whom."

        This is what I think, too.

        Yes, current rules should apply to the internet. But the problem is that there are a large number of people who do not think correctly about their actions.

        I often quote a simple analogy. When using Facebook*, you are with a group of friends. Your posts and comments are like a chat with them over a beer in the local pub, or in your living room over a cup of tea. However, using Twitter is like standing on the table in the local pub, or hanging out of your window, or walking down a busy street, and shouting out what you say for all the world to hear.

        So, while you may have discussions in the pub about controversial subjects, you would not run down the street shouting about how a random person was a paedo (at least not when your mental age passes 12). Think in that manner and you will be fine.

        *I do mean using Facebook as an individual and as it was intended, not through a group page or, of course, if you randomly add random strangers as "friends" without appropriate privacy controls in place.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh FFS

        Surely this is the problem with todays society, everyone is publishing and not just to friends, I hate the default settings that let everyone see everything that is posted, I like to tell my tiny list of friends information occasionally, its easier than a mass SMS, and I can be sure the right group gets it.. I.E. 'having a party, all invited' or 'off on holiday, see you in 2 weeks' I don't want anyone but my close friends to see both of those kind of posts... So why should by default your friends and friends friends see it? I know that some of my friends know shady characters that I would not like know I am away!

        1. philbo

          Re: Oh FFS

          >Surely this is the problem with todays society

          Well, it's *a* problem with today's society. I think there might be others.

    2. John Lilburne
      Thumb Up

      Quite so.

      If you are broadcasting your micro thoughts to 60,000 people you aren't just gossiping in Arkwright's Corner Emporium, nor if you #tag them.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Dazed and Confused Silver badge


    The main thing about courts and contempt is that the court system and judges in particular need to stop treating jurors with contempt.

    Courts routinely piss around with the lives of those unfortunate enough to be summoned to appear at Her Majesty's pleasure. Sure our legal system relies upon jurors and can not function without them. They should therefore be accorded due respect.

    Employees might be legally entitled to be paid while on jury service, but those who work for themselves are entitled to such a miserable pittance in compensation, and then most drudgingly.

    But once on jury service the judge and call and dismiss you for the slightest reason. Barrister wants to go home early? sure no problem, the slaves in the box can come back tomorrow, after all barristers are important. Lawyer's not turned up yet. No problem, make the jurors wait.

    Courts that fail to treat with Jurors with respect should be fined massively, lets face it, the jury could always find them guilty of something.

    1. Rob

      Re: Contempt

      I'm not sure if it's different from court to court and maybe partly dependant on the court staff, but everything you said is exactly what I expected when I did my service. But thanks to the Court staff it actually turned out to be a very comfortable experience. The chap running the jurors was a funny guy and very reasonable, he cut the self employed folk a lot more slack and seemed to consider all jurors employment situations.

      It definitely didn't end up being like the experience I imagined it would be from reading the documentation sent through, but as I mentioned earlier does it vary from court to court.

    2. Mike 122

      Re: Contempt

      My last experiance of jury duty was you were the lowest of the low to be messed around at the convenience of the court.

      It took the court two days to select 15 people from a group of over 50 wasting the time of 35 of us to no use. In that time we watched court officals turn up without paper work cases, cases excused etc, things we had no need to know or be there for. However we were a free resource so no one cared.

      I've now got Jury duty again (years later) and I'm considering not turning up as the fine looks to be less than the money I will lose going. Currently the courts will pay you up to £50 a day for lost wages. Who in London can pay their rent on £50 a day?

  5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    "English and Welsh citizens"

    I think this rather shows how not to get the internet.

    "English and Welsh citizens" aren't allowed to mention a footballer shagging someone - but everyone else on the planet is. Unless of course the English and Welsh citizens are using a twitter service in Holland, or a VPN in the US, or a cloud -thingy in cloud-land - then we aren't sure.

    It's not the middle ages guys - the limit of your court's influence doesn't depend on who one the battle against Owain Glyndŵr

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: "English and Welsh citizens"

      Well, no. Britain's current libel laws actively invite libel tourism: any publication that can be obtained in England and Wales can be tried in an English courts and this applies as much digitally as it does to anything else.

      Other countries tend to have significantly better protection of individual privacy thus the no nonsense approach of the French courts in the case of the Duchess of Cambridge's baps. Yes, we know they're still online but a precedent was set as to who would liable. Because we don't really protect individual privacy with a constitution, libel is often the only way making it a bit of sledgehammer for a wallnut. Issues of liability still need addressing but the willingness of companies like Twitter to hand over users' details to the courts upon request is as much about self-preservation as anything else. By complying they are less likely to be held liable themselves and required to act as gatekeepers in the future.

      And people do need to adopt some sense of responsibility for their actions. Earlier this year the premature disclosure of the suspect's identity in a rape case in Germany led to a lynch campaign on Facebook, the effects of which were difficult to reverse even after the suspect was released as innocent and someone else charged and convicted for the offence. Our obsession with titillation seems to encourage us to trivialise this kind of thing until children are involved when we suddenly seem to rediscover the moral highground: it's okay to hack celebrities' mailboxes but not those of dead children!

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "English and Welsh citizens"

        It was more the point that it's a criminal offence to say something if you are in England or Wales - but not Scotland.

        So what happens if you are in Berwick? Does it matter where you are standing, or which cell tower your phone connects to.

        You would have thought they would have learned from Spycatcher that it's it a little ridiculous to ban something just in England and Wales. Especially now it's probably easier to find a twitter server that ISN'T in UK-2.0(or whatever we are going to call it post Scotland)

  6. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Wasn't there a case

    a while back where a juror researching a case uncovered a patent untruth from the police which made it impossible for the defendant to have committed the crime ?

    Maybe people would research less if they felt they could trust the system ?

    1. Joseph Lord

      Re: Wasn't there a case

      If that happened the defence should have uncovered that and it should have been presented in court.

      What if the juror had found some provably false information about the defendant that prejudiced them against him/her? If it has been found outside the court setting the defence has no opportunity to challenge it or present the correct information.

  7. ScottAS2


    I think you mean "England and Wales' contempt law reform push begins".

    Where's the FTFY icon?

  8. Bill B
    Thumb Down


    The one thing you need to take with you when you are on Jury service is a damn big book. If I ever get called up (again) then I'm going to have problems, because I now use an e-book reader (which coincidentally can also search the web).

    Going to be a real bore if they keep confiscating my book reader when waiting around (which in my experience is most of the time).

  9. Derezed
    Black Helicopters


    My lawyers have advised me not to comment on this article.

    1. Mr Young

      Re: $$$Lawyer$$$

      My lawyer advised me to not comment on yer comment

  10. Mer Ner

    Common sense flies out the window again

    Although it is difficult to formulate legislation on such matters, surely a bit of common sense is required both in terms of the law makers and the potential offenders.

    It was only a few years ago when it was a hot topic that many thought violent gaming would turn young people into violent offenders. Seemingly common sense prevailed here and we're not overrun by an army of foul mouth angry teenagers stealing Lambos to pick up prostitutes and then avoiding the police helicopters and tanks while going on a killing spree in Liberty City... At least not anymore than we were before.

    Now a more real threat on the internet appears to be the people who think they have no responsibility over what they say online. There is definitely a time for free speech, but if you wouldn't say it out in the real world, why would you post it online with such intent?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They cannot police this, unless they actually confiscate all internet connected devices from the jurors homes, and even then, good luck preventing them from borrowing a mates laptop, seesh they don't get it do they, just allow the devices and move into the 21st century already!

  12. jonathanb Silver badge

    If it was the girl who was found in Bordeaux, I thought her name was public knowledge, mainly because the police and all the media published it so people could help find her?

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