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Law expert calls for contempt review

A newspaper law expert has called for a review of the Contempt of Court Act, and suggested a study into the actual impact on jurors of pre-trial publicity surrounding a case.

Express Newspapers’ legal advisor Justin Walford said the fault lay not with the newspaper industry – but with the “vast array” of official and unofficial websites and e-mails they could view.

He told the Law for Journalists conference: “The average Old Bailey juror hearing a high profile case can, in the quiet and privacy of his or her own living room, access information home and abroad as well as contact countless individual groups with all manner of prejudicial material.

“More detailed research is needed in this country on just what is prejudicial and what can be done to negate that prejudice at trial.”

Steve Panter, from the Manchester Evening News, also took to the rostrum to describe how he dealt with police demands to reveal his sources in a story about the city’s IRA bomb attack.

Crime reporting, libel and Internet libel were also covered, as well as privacy issues.

Press Complaints Commission director Guy Black spoke up in support of self-regulation of the industry, saying that the PCC had saved the industry a six-figure sum in costs. He added it was good PR for newspapers and also highlighted responsible editors, with many complaints settled with a simple letter of apology.

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