and the Daily Mirror were fined for contempt over coverage
of Chris Jefferies' arrest
Newspapers found guilty of contempt of court should be forced to suspend
publication for a day as punishment, a Lib Dem peer has suggested.
Lord Thomas said "measures that will really bite" were needed in very
serious cases such as that of Christopher Jefferies.
The Sun and the Daily Mirror were fined for contempt over coverage of
his arrest in the Jo Yeates murder case.
Justice Minister Lord McNally said it was "an interesting idea".
A debate in the Lords was prompted by a question from Labour peer
She asked whether the government would consider changing the law "so
that action can be taken at an earlier stage rather than when havoc has
already been wrought on innocent victims' lives".
Lord McNally said there were no plans to change the law, but the
Attorney General took the issue of contempt very seriously and had asked
the Law Commission to investigate whether current legislation was
Shouldn't they lose a day's edition as a result of
circumstances as bad as that”
Lib Dem peer
There has been concern about both contempt of court and libel during
Lord Thomas, who is a QC, also cited the Madeleine McCann case in which
both her parents and early suspect Robert Murat won damages from large
sections of the media.
The peer said certain elements of the press often took "a gamble" with
pre-trial publicity that the arrested suspect would subsequently be
charged and convicted, and therefore no proceedings for libel or
contempt would follow.
"In the McCann and Jefferies case they then became completely contrite
and settled their cases without question," he said.
"Shouldn't they lose a day's edition as a result of circumstances as bad
as that? Can we not have measures that will really bite on the press
when they go astray?"
Lord McNally said he understood there was concern across all parties
about the situation and that was why the Law Commission had been
He added: "This is not in any way a sense of kicking it into the long
grass, or any sense that we do not appreciate - and particularly the
Attorney General appreciates - the real public concern about these
Earlier this month, Attorney General Dominic Grieve gave a speech at
City University in which he criticised "the increasing tendency of the
press to test the boundaries of what was acceptable over the reporting
of criminal cases".
He said: "At times it appeared to me the press had lost any sense of
internal constraint and felt able, indeed entitled, to print what they
wished, shielded by the right of 'freedom of expression' without any of
the concomitant responsibilities."