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Teach contempt laws to children, night editor suggests

A regional daily’s night editor has suggested children should be taught about Contempt of Court laws.

Tom Evans, of the Liverpool Echo, has made the suggestion after his newspaper warned readers not to “jeopardise” any potential prosecutions arising from last week’s Hillsborough criminal charges.

After the announcement that six people would be charged with criminal offences over the 1989 disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool Football Club supporters, Echo crime reporter Joe Thomas wrote a piece explaining Contempt to readers under the headline ‘Do not give suspects chance to claim they can’t have a fair trial’.

Now Tom has posed the question whether children should receive better education about the laws.

The Echo's front page on Thursday, after the announcement

The Echo’s front page on Thursday, after the announcement

In an opinion piece for the Echo, he wrote: “Back when the only journalists were qualified hacks who’d done their exams, everyone who was likely to publish material about an active court case would be aware of the dangers. If they were to slip up, the consequences would be on them.

“This week, as soon as the Hillsborough charges were announced, every journalist offered their citizen followers a crash course in contempt of court. But to an outsider, the distinction between what you can and can’t say must seem arbitrary.

“Citizen journalism is here to stay, and that’s fine; I wouldn’t want to squeeze it back into the Pandora’s Mixed Bag of 21st Century living, even if I could. But we need to make sure the next generation know how to use it responsibly.

“As well as teaching kids about homophones and split digraphs, and how to avoid phishers and groomers online, we need to teach them to report responsibly and within the law.”

Tom told HTFP he also believes education on the law should extend to adults.

He said: “I think it’s not just children who need to learn what shouldn’t be said about active proceedings – some of the comments I’ve seen on Twitter since Wednesday morning have been frightening to be honest. The law isn’t as well-known as it ought to be.

“But since kids are better at learning things than adults, and since they’re (correctly) taught about how to keep themselves safe online these days, it would make sense to give them a quick primer.”