Sub Judice Rule

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The term sub judice literally means "under judicial consideration". The sub judice rule is part of the law relating to contempt of court. The rule governs what public statements can be made about ongoing legal proceedings before, principally, the courts.

The basis for the sub judice rule is that, in Ontario's legal system, it is the role of the courts to deal with legal issues that are before it. The courts' role should not be usurped by others making public statements about how these issues should be dealt with.

The rule applies where court proceedings are ongoing, and through all stages of appeal until the matter is completed. It may also apply where court proceedings have not yet been started, but are imminent.

The rule is not limited to parties in a case or their lawyers. It applies to the public and to statements by public officials. The principles underlying the rule also apply to statements made by MPPs in the Legislature, and are overseen by the Speaker, by virtue of the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly.

The sub judice rule may be breached by public statements that risk prejudging matters or issues that are before the courts. It is the concept of prejudging that is central to the rule.

A breach of the sub judice rule can include, for instance, statements urging the court to reach a particular result in a matter, comments on the strength or weakness of a party's case or particular issue, or comments on witnesses or evidence in a case.

The sub judice rule does not prohibit fair and accurate reporting of the factual content of ongoing judicial proceedings by the media, as long as the report does not usurp the court's role by prejudging the case or its legal issues.

In addition to the sub judice rule, there may be other limitations on what can be said about a legal proceeding. For example, the Youth Criminal Justice Act limits what can be said about proceedings involving young persons who are in conflict with the criminal justice system. Also, courts can issue publication bans that limit what can be published about a particular matter.

Whether any particular statement raises sub judice concerns depends on the nature of the statement, the case involved and other circumstances. Members of the media should therefore consult with their legal counsel for advice on what may and may not be said about ongoing legal proceedings.