ON Thursday evening, police confirmed that former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has been charged amid a probe into the party’s finances.

The three-year investigation, dubbed “Operation Branchform”, had previously seen Murrell arrested and released without charge in April 2023.

However, he has now been re-arrested and charged in connection with allegations of embezzlement.

The latest development means the case is “active” in terms of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 – which has immediate ramifications on what the media can and cannot report.

It also has an immediate impact on what members of the public can say – including in the comment section on our website.

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A key phrase to remember is “substantial risk of serious prejudice”. If a comment on our website or on social media could be read as prejudging the outcome of a case in a way that could sway a juror’s opinion, it could be an offence.

If a comment risks unfairly influencing someone’s right to a free trial, it could be an offence.

It would not necessarily only be the commenter who is liable, but the newspaper which runs the website where the comment appeared as well.

This is especially true if a comment which may prejudice a case is flagged to the website owner but is not removed.

As such, we will not have comments enabled on any of our stories linked to the live case involving Murrell and the SNP.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service explained exactly what the Contempt of Court Act means.

In a statement, it said: “In Scotland, when a person is charged with a criminal offence the case becomes ‘active’ in terms of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

“This means that any conduct tending to interfere with the course of justice may be treated as a contempt of court, regardless of intent to do so.

“A ‘strict liability’ rule applies to any publication or communication addressed to the public at large, including online publications.

“Any information published about an active case must not include commentary or analysis of evidence, witnesses or the accused.

“Contempt is punishable by up to two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine in serious cases.

“Its purpose is to protect the integrity of proceedings, preserve access to justice for victims, and to secure the rights of a fair trial for the accused.”

Scottish law lecturer Scott Wortley reminded people that the Act is "taken very seriously" by the Crown Office in Scotland, reputedly more so than south of the Border.