England and Wales have decided to abolish [Law Commission statement] the centuries-old contempt of court law [text], which historically has protected judges from slander and libel. David Omerod [official profile], a commissioner for the Law Commission [official website] which reviews laws in England and Wales, stated that the contempt of court law was obsolete and unnecessary to deal with instances in which judges are publicly criticized. In its statement, the Law Commission explained that modern technological advances, such as the internet, have made the contempt of court law impracticable:
[M]any aspects of the law have failed to keep pace with cultural and technological advances that mean information about trials can be easily published on the internet. This poses particular problems since, once material gets onto the internet, the original publisher can very easily lose control of it and any precautions he or she takes to minimize impact on a trial may be ineffective.The contempt of court law was revived in the eighteenth century [ANI report] to deal with government critics but has since been rarely invoked.
Contempt of court laws have drawn significant controversy around the globe. On Friday the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf [BBC profile] to appear before the court by the end of the month or risk contempt of court charges. Last week the government of Pakistan announced that it will petition the high court to review its decision nullifying [JURIST reports] the Contempt of Court Bill 2012 which was passed to shield the country's new prime minister from contempt charges. The bill was passed by the upper [AFP report] and lower houses of the national parliament and signed [JURIST reports] by President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] last month. The legislature and the president approved the law in order to protect the new PM from possible contempt of court proceedings for failure to reopen the investigation against Zardari. In June, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] convicted Serb nationalist politician and war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj [official website, in Serbian; JURIST news archive] of contempt of court and sentenced him to two years in prison [JURIST report].