'Scandalising court' under review

A court room at the Old Bailey
Image caption Scandalising judges includes being extremely offensive

The ancient offence of scandalising the court is to be reviewed to see if it is still necessary.

The offence is a form of contempt of court, but has not been successfully prosecuted since 1931.

It is committed by publishing anything that ridicules the judiciary to the extent that it is likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

The Law Commission is consulting on the law in England and Wales.

'Murmuring judges'

Examples of the offence include being extremely offensive to a judge, or accusing him of corruption.

It is also know as scandalising judges while in Scotland it is called "murmuring judges".

In the leading case, from 1900, a journalist was found guilty for describing a judge as an "impudent little man in horsehair, a microcosm of conceit and empty-headedness".

But the law is vague, and it is questionable whether it is compatible with the right to freedom of expression, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

There was also controversy surrounding the issue of whether there was any justification for retaining such an offence in a well-established democracy, the Law Commission said.

The consultation opens on Friday and closes on 10 October.

In May this year, former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain was accused of the offence after criticising a Belfast judge in his memoirs. However, the charge was dropped after he wrote to Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin clarifying the remarks.

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