When one thinks of criminal law, one usually thinks of offences against the person or against property.
But there a group of offences which are there not to protect people or possessions but to protect the legal system itself. One of these is perjury, and another is perversion of the course of justice; but the one which has been in the news recently is the law of contempt of court.
Contempt of court is a wide area of law, ranging from misbehaviour in the court room to non-compliance with a court order. However, it the law of contempt which applies to reporting restrictions and broadcasting which has recently been the subject of much discussion.
On one hand there is a basic right to a fair trial, and the job of contempt of court is to enable this; but on the other hand there are the important principles of open justice and free expression which mean that it should be open for journalists and citizens to discuss legally related topics in the news. The difficulty is to find the right balance between justice and public debate. If contempt of law is wrongly used then the risk is that people will have contempt for the law, and this helps nobody.
Earlier this evening I discussed contempt of court and how it has been applied in recent examples with the legal blogger Charon QC. You can listen to the podcast here, and I would welcome any thoughts.