Questions On The Criminal Justice System

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1. In this paper I am going to consider the particular challenges that the internet, and its associated ‘thundering tyde’ of information, misinformation, and comment available to anyone with access to a computer, has posed to the administration of justice.

2. The criminal justice system has traditionally sought to protect jurors from exposure to prejudicial material, and the law of contempt has played a key part in this endeavour. The law places restrictions on the publication of potentially prejudicial material through the strict liability rule. And, addressing the problem from the other end, judicial directions are routinely given to juries, and these are designed to limit the risk of them being exposed to such material.

3. The current law of contempt was developed in an age which had not anticipated the information and communication revolution that we are now living through. Material that is prejudicial to criminal proceedings may now be disseminated with extraordinary speed and to a potentially unlimited audience; indeed such material may have been reposing on the internet long before even the crime leading to those proceedings has been committed, but remains accessible to anyone caring to look for it.

4. Many have been bowled over by this gathering torrent of words. The columnist Matthew Parris, considering his position on the board of free speech organisation Index on Censorship, recently wrote in The Spectator:

“… we gave a considered submission
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