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1. It is an offence to publish 1 material which creates a substantial (real) risk that the course of justice in the proceedings will be seriously impeded or prejudiced 2. This applies only if the relevant proceedings are active.
2. "Prejudicial material" includes previous convictions 3, confessions 4, assertions of guilt 5 and prejudicial photographs 6.
3. Section 2 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 limits the common law rule that conduct may be treated as contempt regardless of intention, to circumstances where publication would create a substantial risk that justice will be seriously impended or prejudiced.
4. It is not a contempt of court if the risk of prejudice created by a publication is merely incidental to a discussion of matters of general public interest 7. You may wish, for example, to publish a report of an accident which is of public importance but contains material which may prejudice the defendant in particular proceedings. This will not constitute a contempt of court if the information is incidental to the main thrust of the report. You should seek legal advice if you have any doubts.
5. There is an express right to publish a fair, accurate and contemporaneous report of public legal proceedings 8. A report will be "contemporaneous" if published as soon as is practicable after any temporary legal restriction on reporting has ended9.
6. The court may order that the publication of certain matters heard in court should be postponed for a specified period, where there is a substantial risk of prejudice to the proceedings in question or any other proceedings pending or imminent10. For example, where one trial is part of a series and premature publication of evidence common to all of them might prejudice later proceedings, a court is likely to order that publication of information should be postponed.
7. However, courts are increasingly reluctant to impose postponement orders 11 where there is an alternative course of action 12 or to permit orders that are unnecessarily wide 13, especially where the risk is of only slight or trivial prejudice 14.
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