West Law Report

ATTORNEY GENERAL v ITV CENTRAL LTD

Posted in Westlaw Reports by mrkooenglish on July 23, 2008

Divisional Court Pill LJ, King J July 15, 2008 Broadcasting – Contempt of court – Fines – Previous convictions – Sub judice – Media publication of accused’s antecedents before trial – Determination of appropriate fine s. 2(2) Contempt of Court Act 1981

Last Updated: 6:32PM BST 23 Jul 2008

FACTS

The Attorney General applied for an order for committal, or other appropriate order, against the respondent broadcaster (B) for contempt of court. B had broadcast a news report of 23 seconds duration on a regional television programme which referred to the trial of five men that was due to take place later that day. The report, prepared by a journalist, referred to the fact that one of the accused had been convicted of murder and was serving a sentence of imprisonment for that offence. The news report was repeated on two late morning news bulletins. The broadcast was drawn to the attention of the trial judge who postponed the trial. The respondent offered a full and unreserved apology at the earliest opportunity. All five defendants were subsequently convicted. B voluntarily agreed to pay the third party costs that were incurred through the postponement of the trial before those costs were known to it. Those costs were subsequently agreed in the sum of £37,014. The Attorney General contended that the broadcast was a clear breach of the strict liability rule under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 s. 2(2). B accepted that a basic and serious aberrational error occurred through the publication of the news report but argued in mitigation that regard should be had to the fact that the error of revealing an accused’s antecedents before trial was so “blindingly obvious” that it had not anticipated that a trained journalist preparing a news report for broadcast would so err. B further submitted that it had subsequently put in place editorial safeguards to prevent an occurrence of such an error and that its broadcast had not been designed to create sensationalism or to gain an “exclusive”.

ISSUE

Whether the broadcast was a clear breach of the strict liability rule under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 s. 2(2).

HELD (application granted)

The publication in question was a serious and basic error that created a real risk that the broadcast might be heard by members of the jury due to hear the trial. A charge of murder was serious, as was a conviction for murder and the “simplicity” of the error could not detract from the seriousness of the publication. B should have been known that where a person was convicted of murder and was due to be tried on another charge of murder, his previous conviction should not be disclosed. The contempt had resulted in the disturbance of the court, delays and distress to third parties. However it also had to be borne in mind that the payment of third-party costs was a type of punishment in itself and that such a payment was not reflected in the penalties imposed in previous cases for a contempt of court of the type that had occurred in the instant case. Accordingly in all the circumstances it was appropriate to require B to pay a fine of £25,000.

Philip Havers QC (instructed by Treasury Solicitor) for the Attorney General.

Andrew Caldecott QC (instructed by Goodman Derrick) for the respondent.

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