17 MAY 1957, Page 7

A Spectator's Notebook

THE DECISION on the Newsweek case is significant, The fines imposed on the distributors of the magazine were nominal; but legal costs these days are not nominal, and in any case Lord Goddard made it clear that another time he would be less lenient. The need obviously exists for legislation to exempt distributors from prosecution except in cases where there is a prima facie case against them as accessories. Otherwise a ridiculous situa- tion arises where distributors are afraid to take periodicals from countries which have less stringent rules about libel or contempt. The time is also ripe for a revision of ideas on what con- stitutes contempt of court—as, indeed, the Odhams case a few months ago had shown. There is no reason why the defendant in a contempt case should not now be provided with the safe- guard of trial by jury—or at the very least with the right of appeal. This is all the more necessary now that the offence of contempt of court could in the light of recent decisions be renamed 'in- advertence of court.'