Attorney-General v MGN Ltd
Reference:  EWHC 907 (Admin)
Court: Divisional Court
Judge: Kennedy LJ, Rafferty J
Date of judgment: 19 Apr 2002
Summary: Contempt of court - Leeds footballers - trial for assault on Asian studen - newspaper article when jury considering verdict - jury discharged - risk of prejudice - penalties - mitigation
Instructing Solicitors: Treasury Solicitor; Olswang
An attack on an Asian student led to several individuals – including two Leeds Utd footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate – being prosecuted for assault. Whilst the jury was considering its verdicts MGN published in the Sunday Mirror two articles commenting on the case. These reported the opinion of the victim’s father that the attack had been racially motivated. The prosecution had throughout disclaimed any suggestion of racial motive. The paper also reported comments by the father on the credibility of a key witness. The judge discharged the jury and ordered a re-trial. The wasted costs were estimated at more than £1m. MGN accepted that the articles had created a substantial risk of serious prejudice and apologised.
What was the appropriate penalty for the admitted contempt of court?
The contempt was serious, and MGN had not fully explained how it had occurred. It had admitted responsibility and apologised at an early stage, and this was the first contempt finding against it since 1949. Nonetheless, a fine was necessary. MGN should pay a fine of £75,000 and the Attorney-General’s costs in the sum of £54,160.
It was this notorious case which prompted the government to bring forward legislation permitting courts to order publishers to pay costs wasted when a case collapses or is adjourned due to prejudicial publicity. The fine imposed may be seen as fairly modest given the scale of expense wasted in this case.