New Zealand Law Society - Law Commission proposes contempt law reform

Law Commission proposes contempt law reform

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The Law Commission has recommended a new statute to reform the law of contempt of court, replacing old judge-made law with new offences, new enforcement provisions and new processes.

The Commission has released a report, Reforming the Law of Contempt of Court: A Modern Statute - Ko te Whakahou i te Ture mō Te Whawhati Tikanga ki te Kōti: He Ture Ao Houwhich includes a new statute, The Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Act.

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The report says the law relating to contempt has evolved in a piecemeal fashion, resulting in a lack of certainty.

"Contempt laws are increasingly antiquated and inappropriate in our modern society. They predate the digital age and need to be updated to address these technological developments.

Among its recommendations, the Law Commission proposes:

  • Clearer statutory rules governing the publishing of information on an arrested person’s previous convictions and concurrent charges.
  • New statutory powers allowing the courts to make temporary suppression orders postponing publication of information that poses a real risk of prejudice to an arrested person’s fair trial.
  • A new statutory offence to replace the common law contempt of publishing information where there is a real risk that the publication could prejudice a fair trial.
  • A new standardised procedure for dealing with disruptive behaviour in the courts that interrupts proceedings and interferes with a court’s ability to determine the proceedings effectively and efficiently.
  • A new offence to replace common law contempt where a member of a jury investigates or researches information which he or she knows is relevant to the case.
  • The antiquated contempt of scandalising the court should be abolished.
  • A new offence of publishing untrue allegations or accusations against the judiciary when there is a real risk that the publication could undermine public confidence in the independence, integrity or impartiality of the judiciary or courts.

Justice Minister Amy Adams says the Government will carefully consider the recommendations and respond in due course.

“The Law Commission’s proposals would affect a number of other laws and a range of people and organisations involved in the court system, including judges, lawyers, media, defendants, victims, witnesses and court visitors. We need to consider how these recommendations would work in practice so that any changes we make are effective and fair,” she says.

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