NZ Contempt CoverThe New Zealand Law Commission has published an issues paper Contempt in Modern New Zealand (IP 36, 2014).  It is seeking feedback on a package of reforms which propose far-reaching changes to the law of contempt in New Zealand.

The Issues Paper proposes that judge-made laws of contempt of court be replaced by a more limited and clearer set of legislative provisions which is says better reconcile protecting the integrity of the justice system and fair trial rights with the importance of freedom of speech.  The Press Release about the paper can be found here [pdf]

The proposals are also relevant in England and Wales as many of the same issues arise in the domestic law of contempt.

The paper focuses on four issues

  • Publication contempt, which is the contempt that is the most difficult to articulate and has been significantly affected by the advent of new media.
  • Contempt by jurors, which is also facing significant challenges as a result of new media.
  • Scandalising the court, which is clearly outdated, as the name suggests.
  • Civil contempt, which may no longer be relevant.

The paper poses a series of Consultation Questions.

New Zealand media law blogger Steven Price, has provided a response on his Media Law Journal blog.  Under the heading “The good” he says

It’s a thoughtful and generally thorough paper, and there contains much to admire. It is grounded in principles, which are set out. It surveys historical developments. It provides an excellent summary of the existing law. It is alive to the challenges created by burgeoning technology, the needs of the modern media and the significance of freedom of expression in discussing the courts.

He raises, however, a potential constitutional issue as to whether judges need to control the power to punish those who impede the administration, rather than Parliament defining the limits.

He also criticises the Commission’s attempt to make the law of contempt clearer (and its failure to look at the English experience under the Contempt of Court Act 1981).

This is a thoughtful post which is worth reading in full.