Jurors should face up to two years in prison if they search the internet for information about cases beyond the facts revealed in court, the Law Commission has recommended.
Judges should also be given powers to remove jurors' mobile phones, and all internet-enabled devices must be confiscated during jury room deliberations, according to the commission's proposals for reforming contempt of court regulations.
The report suggests that the attorney general ought to take on responsibility for ordering the media to remove previously published stories from websites if they are deemed to jeopardise a fair trial.
The Law Commission believes its proposals on removing stories from websites will not require media organisations to monitor every trial in the country to ensure that archived stories, still available online, pose a risk to a fair trial.
By requiring the attorney general to make a formal approach to the media when it is feared there is a significant risk that previously published material could undermine justice, the commission intends that interventions will be rare.
There's nothing in Google.
He must be guilty as sin!
Ministers are seeking powers to make newspapers remove from their online archives stories about the criminal past of people facing trial.
Editors fear the move could create a black hole in the historical record by striking out previous convictions.
The planned new law is part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill now before parliament. It has been designed to restrict jurors using the internet to research a case, mid-trial.
The jurors will in future face a possible prison sentence if they are caught trying to delve into the defendant's past. But, to make it harder for them to do so, Attorney General Dominic Grieve wants the power to issue a so-called take-down order
to UK newspapers.
Editors who ignored a request would face imprisonment or an unlimited fine.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said it meant defence lawyers could push for a complete ban on every article previously published about a defendant. He said:
The new provisions could have a highly restrictive effect upon the freedom to publish far beyond that intended and ultimately be capable of creating black holes in the historic record.
In theory, the information could be returned to the archive once the trial is complete, but it is feared some papers would not have the resources.
The laws would apply to UK newspapers, but not the likes of the Huffington Post, which receives millions of hits in Britain. Twitter would not be covered, either.
The government has abandoned plans to give itself powers to order media organisations to remove articles from their
online archives. A clause in the criminal justice and courts bill would have enabled the attorney general, currently Dominic Grieve QC, to order newspapers and other publishers to take down past articles on the grounds that their continued
presence would create a danger of contempt if jurors in a court case searched for information on the internet.
Media organisations, including the Guardian, had opposed the move. In written evidence to MPs last year, they said:
We fear that the introduction of statutory powers could lead to the use of notices becoming standard practice leading to the courts and media becoming inundated with requests to take down material.
This has serious practical implications for the resourcing and maintenance of and public access to the archives of both national and regional media.
The plan originated in a proposal from the Law Commission two years ago which argued that courts should be armed with powers compelling media organisations to take down old stories from electronic archives in order to remove potentially
A statement from the attorney general's office confirmed the decision to abandon the proposal. It said:
The governmen recognises the disquiet surrounding the proposal. Given that this measure was designed to assist the media, it is significant that representatives of the media consider that this provision does not do so.
Whilst the government considers that the notice provision would be an improvement for the media, courts and attorneys general alike, it is satisfied that the existing law will continue to provide satisfactory protection to the integrity of legal