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Plans For Media Take-Down Abandoned

18th Jul 2014

Plans to give the attorney general the power to order media organisations to remove online stories that could influence criminal trials have been abandoned by the government.

Attorney general Dominic Grieve QC stated that the media had shown their unhappiness over the plans, and the government had listened to their opinions.

The proposals, contained in sections 51 and 52 of the Criminal Justic and Courts Bill, would have allowed the attorney general to order UK newspapers, and other publishers, to remove any articles online that were at risk of contempt of court should jurors choose to research the case and those involved online.

Said proposals were derived from a Law Commission report that showed media concern over their online archive material and whether it left them at such a risk. The report suggested that the attorney general should warn publishers if their material was potentially prejudicial while a trial was active, and that until this warning was issued, publishers had a defence if accused of contempt of court.

The punishments for not adhering to the proposed rule included a fine or imprisonment for editors found in contempt of court. The bill also makes it an offence for jurors to carry out research, also punishable by jail time.

Grieve further added that while the measures were intended to provide the media with ‘protection and ‘reassurance’, they were criticised by the government for giving the attorney general too much power, which had an effect on press freedom.

The government believed such a proposal ‘struck the right balance between the right to a fair trial and the freedom of the press’, but decided not to pursue the issue, ‘satisfied that the existing law will continue to provide satisfactory protection to the integrity of legal proceedings’, without harming press freedom.

Amendments will be tabled to omit the clauses ‘at the first opportunity’, added Grieve.