‘Some reporters come very close to being cited for contempt’
Persons who make irresponsible commentary or reports about court proceedings risk being cited for contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.
“Sometimes we hear reports, whether the media, social media or other places, who don’t trouble to get all of the information before they make all sorts of statements… from persons who ought to know better,” High Court Judge Brian Cottle commented during a sentencing session at the court last Friday.
He continued that while he does not bother to listen to radio programs or visit social media himself, the reports of what is said get back to him sometimes.
“Some of the reporters come very close to being cited for contempt of court,” he warned, and he voiced his hope that those involved in doing “that sort of thing”, “will refrain from the kind of behaviour.”
In a brief interview with SEARCHLIGHT yesterday, Cottle said he welcomes discussion on the cases, but encouraged members of the public to come to the court so that they would be in a better position to make informed commentary.
“The criminal courts are public. The public is encouraged to come as long as there is space. We welcome them to sit and listen to the cases,” Cottle said.
It is important that the general public understands what operates in the mind of a sentencing judge when he is delivering a sentence, he noted last Friday at the High Court.
Justice Cottle spoke then of the four considerations of a judge when imposing a sentence, namely, retribution, deterrence, prevention and rehabilitation.
He said the judge considers retribution, or the view society holds of the behaviour of the particular offender, and the objective of deterring the particular offender and others who may be minded to behave like him. Equally it seeks to prevent the behaviour and protect the public by removal of the person from society, and finally rehabilitate the offender as it is from our society that they came, and to our society that they will return.
Last Friday, Justice Cottle sentenced Josiah Thomas, who raped a 12-year-old on December 9, 2013 to 13 years and four months in jail. The victim in the case received so much physical trauma from the act, that she was referred to the hospital. SEARCHLIGHT published a story on the case in the February 26 edition of Midweek e-paper, and since then, the predominant opinion of the public has been that the sentence was not sufficient for the crime, and that justice was not served. There have also been comments directed at the judge himself.
This is not the first time in the past months that Justice Cottle’s sentencing has come under heavy fire. Heated discussions were held around the handing down of a suspended jail sentence to defendants Kenny Edwards and Askey Roberts who raped a 12-year-old girl. The victim in this case forgave the defendants, and a number of comments were also made about the victim, her family and their character.
SEARCHLIGHT understands that some of the reports published about that case on broadcast and social media were so detailed that some people were able to discern the identity of the victim, which is not supposed to be disclosed.
Contempt of court is an offence written in section 98, chapter 171 of the criminal code. Among those liable for contempt, are those, “(g) while a judicial proceeding is being held or is pending, makes or uses any speech or writing misrepresenting such proceeding, or capable of prejudicing any person in favour of or against any party to the proceeding, or calculated to lower the authority of any person before whom the proceeding is being, or is to be, held.”
Further anyone who publishes a report of the evidence which has been ordered not to be published, “‘evidence’ includes the name and address of any party to the proceeding, any witness and any person mentioned in those proceedings.”
Finally, anyone who “ (l) commits any other act of intentional disrespect to any court, or any judicial proceeding, or to any person before whom the proceeding is being held,” may also be held in contempt.
Offenders may be liable to imprisonment for a term of up to two years.