Contempt of Court


3 July 2018

By Elizabeth Bradshaw

A person is in contempt of Court if that individual makes a publication and as a result of their publication there is a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those proceedings. The legislation for this offence is contained within the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and it is an offence of strict liability.

Strict liability means that those prosecuting do not need to prove the Defendant's intentions and therefore only their actions are relevant. However, there is a limitation in that there must be a substantial risk and the proceedings concerned must be active.

This legislation is designed to specifically protect the rule of law by ensuring fair Trials. This act prevents trials from being swayed by the media.

In 2011, juror Joanne Fraill contacted the Defendant Jamie Sewart on Facebook which ultimately led to a £6 million drugs trial to collapse. In addition to the Facebook contact she had also conducted online searches about the case and was sentenced for eight months.

More recently, there have been reports in the media that Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the founder of the English Defence League, was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment for contempt of Court. He published information that could prejudice an on-going Trial by live streaming on Facebook outside Leeds Crown Court. The live stream was being viewed by more than 10,000 people at one stage, as Robinson attempted to film the Defendants entering the court and he allegedly made attempts discussed the case.

The maximum sentence for contempt of court is two years' imprisonment, but it can also be punished with a fine.


This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues. 

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