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contempt of court review

Comment 9th July 2010

Review the use of judiciary's use of contempt of court powers in substitution for a proper trial.

On 5 July at Reading Crown Court, Mr John Affleck was sentenced within 3 hours of the alleged offence to 12 months imprisonment for contempt of court — he had a barrister who could not have had sufficient time to defend him and there was no deferral of sentencing pending a pschyiatric report.

The proper course would have been for Mr Affleck to have been arrested for the alleged offence, interviewed under caution and with legal representaion, witness statements to be taken and for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide if a prosecution should be brought.  Like all other defendants he would have then had the opportunity to engage a properly briefed barister and had a fair trial by jury.

Why does this matter?

What must be avoided  in the judicial process is even the slightest chance of any perception that a judge sentencing someone to the loss of liberty for 12 months in such a summary manner might have been swayed by an emotional reaction to the alleged offence in his court.

If contempt of court powers are to be used in the manner described in this case, there is a risk that they themselves will be brought into disrepute.  The judiciary's right to punish someone for contempt of court should remain, but with limits on the degree of punishment to ensure this case cannot be repeated.

The rights of an individual to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and to a fair trial are paramount.

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