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Contempt of court has been aptly described as the Proteus of the legal world, assuming an almost infinite diversity of forms.
Its central concern is to protect the administration of justice in criminal and civil cases, addressing, for example, the perennial conflict between the requirements of a fair and unprejudiced trial and those from freedom of expression. It is also concerned to protect witnesses from being victimized and courts from being subjected to destructive criticism in the press, or disruptive conduct during their proceedings.
Similarly, it provides the ultimate sanction to secure the enforcement of court orders. A further major clash of interests is between the demands of 'open justice' and the numerous restrictions on reporting which now exist, for example to confer anonymity on children and on complainants in sexual cases and on other vulnerable witnesses. These are discussed in detail, particularly in the light of the changes associated with the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
This new and considerably expanded version of Professor Miller's classic work on the subject has been written against the background of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the ever-increasing importance of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The compatibility (or otherwise) of existing law with 'Convention rights' is discussed in detail in the light of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, many of which are not as inimical to the values traditionally advanced by the law of contempt as is sometimes assumed. Full discussion of the many changes in English law is accompanied by references to developments in such jurisdictions as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and, to a lesser extent, the United States of America.
In particular the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has long since required Canadian courts to grapple with issues which are now confronting their United Kingdom counterparts. It is to be expected that such developments will increasingly be taken into account when reassessing our own law of contempt.