The government is considering granting itself new powers to order newspapers to remove articles from their archives. Attorney General Dominic Grieve wants the powers to stop jurors looking up past convictions of suspects in court cases, but an influential parliamentary committee has warned that the new rules could be open to abuse.
The Daily Mail reports that editors also fear that the law could create a ‘black hole in history’.
There are currently plans to stop jury members researching suspects and case histories on the internet, with the practice becoming a criminal offence punishable with a prison term.
But under the Attorney General’s plans, once a person is charged with a criminal offence, officials would be able to demand that newspaper websites remove previous articles on that person from their website.
Editors who ignore the orders would face imprisonment or an unlimited fine.
Although newspapers would theoretically be able to return the articles to their sites after the case has concluded, there are fears that most will not have the resources to reinstate them, leading to a permanent ‘black hole’ in history.
Given the limited jurisdiction of the UK government, the law would only apply to UK papers and cannot affect publications like Breitbart London or Twitter.
MPs and Peers on the Joint Committee on Human Rights say in their report that they are “concerned about the lack of safeguards… against the arbitrary or disproportionate exercise of the Attorney General’s power”.
The government, however, does not perceive a problem. Officials said: “We do not view these arrangements as having any implications for freedom of expression,” but the committee responded: “We disagree.”
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, 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.”