§ 37. Mr. Fairbairn
asked the Lord Advocate if he is satisfied with the operation of the law of contempt of court as it relates to newspapers and the media.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)
The law of contempt of court as it relates to the media is no doubt capable of improvement. Certain recommendations of the Phillimore Committee have a bearing on the matter. There has been little spontaneous public reaction to that report and in order to supplement its consideration of the recommendations the Government are now initiating consultation with interested bodies before reaching any final decisions. It would be wrong for me to anticipate the outcome.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I appreciate the Lord Advocate's reply, but will he realise that in Scotland the law of contempt as it relates to the media is mastered by two decisions of the late Lord Clyde, dominant in a recent decision which was patently unjust to the newspapers concerned? Although in Scotland we should not like to see the absurdity of the system in England in which a defendant, such as Mr. Peter Hain, parades himself in the Press, asking for witnesses to come forward to identify him, will the Lord Advocate ensure that the law of Scotland is not oppressive to the media in the proper exercise of their function of guarding the public interest?
§ The Lord Advocate
I am aware of the two cases to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers, but fairness and justice are the important considerations when the trial of an accused person is taking place. On any view, there must be rules of reasonable conduct which the media will have to observe. As for the most recent case to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers, it is a fact that some people wish to see their photographs published in the newspapers almost on any pretext. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not one of them.
§ The Lord Advocate
When such persons are on trial, they have to be protected, even from themselves.