Full case report

Attorney General v ITV Central Ltd

Reference 15 July 2008, extempore
Court Divisional Court

Judge Pill LJ, King J

Date of Judgment 15 Jul 2008


Summary

Contempt of Court – s.2(2), Contempt of Court Act 1981 – Broadcasters – News reporting – Court reporting – Strict liability – Previous convictions


Facts

During one of its morning news reports covering the murder trial of 5 men which was due to start later the same day, the respondent broadcaster, ITV, 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 report was repeated a further two times the same day resulting in the trial judge postponing the trial for 14 days. ITV apologised unreservedly and voluntarily agreed to pay the 3rd party costs incurred (£37,014). ITV pleaded guilty to a contempt under section 2(2) Contempt of Court Act 1982 but argued in mitigation that the error was so “blindingly obvious” that it had not anticipated that one of its reporters would make such an error. ITV submitted that further editorial safeguards had been put in place and the broadcast had not been designed to create sensationalism or to gain an exclusive.


Issue

The appropriate level of fine to be imposed in these circumstances.


Held

Imposing a fine of £25,000:

There was a real risk that members of the jury might hear the broadcast; the murder charge was serious and the “simplicity” of the error could not detract from the seriousness of the publication; ITV should have known that the where a person was convicted of murder and was due to be tried on another charge of murder, the previous conviction should not be disclosed. Although the contempt had caused disturbance of the court, delays and distress to 3rd parties, the payment of 3rd party costs was a type of punishment in itself.


Comment

A stark reminder that there is no scope for honest error in contempt of court offences. The judgment suggests that where the defendant has already paid the 3rd party costs arising from its contempt, it can expect this to be reflected in a lower financial penalty.


Instructing Solicitors

Treasury Solicitor for the A-G; Goodman Derrick for the respondent