I am listening to Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine programme at the moment and a very interesting discussion on the above topic. I refer to the barrister who appears to have made exaggerated claims as to his level of qualification. “When is a lie not a lie?”, I am moved to ask. Apparently there are lies, white lies, fibs and so on. I am particularly interested in this discussion, having experienced first hand what it is to be lied to by the legal profession. I have been in the witness box for two and a half days at my trial, during which my trial judge had to intervene on more than one occasion on behalf of the prosecuting QC when I had him on the rails. Yet it was not the prosecution which intrigued me, but two members of my own defence team. Is it ever acceptable for senior members of the legal profession to lie in order to gain pecuniary advantage in a publicly funded trial costing well over £20m?
I thank The Daily Telegraph for the following:
The offence of “scandalising the court” is a form of contempt that makes it illegal to ridicule the judiciary to such an extent that justice is brought in to disrepute. However there has not been a successful prosecution in more than 80 years and the Government’s law advisers have recommended it be abolished because “social attitudes have changed”. The law was aimed at protecting the image of the judiciary but in modern society judges regularly face criticism over some sentences they pass or rulings they make. The Law Commission, which consulted on the future of the offence, said it “belongs to an era when deferential respect to the judiciary was the norm”. “But social attitudes have changed. Enforcing the offence today would do little to reinforce respect for the judiciary and, if judges are thought to be using it to protect their own, could strengthen any existing distrust or disrespect.”
The last prosecution was in 1931 and the Commission said it “had no place in today’s society”.
The offence made it illegal to publish anything that was likely to bring the judiciary into disrepute such as “extremely offensive” comments or suggestions they were corrupt. But the Commission concluded: “Using the threat of proceedings for scandalising the court to suppress complaints about the judiciary, even those that are wholly unjustified or abusive, is likely to restrict freedom of expression and have a “chilling effect” that would deter people from making justified complaints.” As with anyone else, judges will still have redress through civil courts if comments made were false and defamatory.
Professor David Ormerod, the Law Commissioner leading the project, says: “Abusive publications about judges and courts occur frequently but are never prosecuted as scandalising. “The offence has fallen out of use. It no longer serves as a deterrent, and any symbolic power it once had to drive home the message that scandalising the court is unacceptable is much diminished. “Scandalising also amounts to a restriction on freedom of expression, and it is not clear that the infringement is necessary. “We have found, on the contrary, many strong reasons for removing this restriction.”
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the Government would support the recommendations and move to abolish the offence.
However, in the USA, things are different: