Contempt of court is interfering with justice to prejudice a person getting a fair trial. You are at risk of this when a crime is ‘active’ and you write something which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice. A case is active for contempt when:
- Warrant for arrest being issued;
- Arrest has been made;
- Summons is issued;
- Oral charge made.
The case stops being active when:
- When an arrested person is released without charge;
- 12 months after a warrant has been issued, if no arrest has been made:
- The case is thrown out of court;
- Someone is sentenced or acquitted.
The crime in question can still be reported, but you have to be very careful about what you write:
- Don’t give descriptions or publish pictures if identity is an issue (maybe there will be an ID parade);
- ‘Common ground’ facts in the public domain are OK- career history, family, hobbies etc;
- Take care with background material that states/implies the person is of bad character (previous convictions, comments from neighbors);
- Don’t use words like offender or thug – they all imply guilt
An example of contempt of court in the media is the Chris Jeffries case. Chris was a suspect for the murder of Joanne Yates and news papers such as the Mirror ended up being fined £50,000 for the way that they reported the case.
Link to the article – http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/jul/29/sun-daily-mirror-guilty-contempt
Here is a picture of the way they reported the story:
Here you can see the paper state that he ”spied on flat couple”. The problem with this is that this is being stated as if it is fact. There are no quotation marks or anything to make it clear that he is only accused of spying on the couple. It also mentions that his friend is in jail for pedophile crimes. This is giving some bias information and explicitly saying that he associates with those kind of people, when there most likely was way more to the story.
Also the main headline ‘Jo suspect is peeping tom’ is what draws the reader into looking at the newspaper. Although this is in quotation marks, it is phrased in a way that makes the reader take it as fact and makes us assume that is it proven he is a peeping tom.