Attorney-General v News Group Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  QB 1
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Lord Donaldson MR, Parker LJ and Sir George Waller
Date of judgment: 30 Apr 1986
Summary: Contempt of court - publication - injunction - risk of prejudice to forthcoming libel trial
Instructing Solicitors: Allen & Overy
The defendant proposed to publish an article touching on matters which were the subject of a forthcoming libel action, to be tried by jury, brought by the cricketer Ian Botham. The Attorney-General applied for an injunction to restrain publication on the grounds that it would risk prejudice to the trial and thus be a contempt. Leggatt J granted the injunction, and the defendant appealed.
(1) Whether there was a serious risk of prejudice so as to engage the court’s jurisdiction to grant injunctions against threatened contempts.
(2) Whether the judge should have taken into account the public policy considerations which underly the rule in Bonnard v Perryman, that an injunction should not be granted against a publisher who is prepared to justify what he publishes?
Allowing the appeal, and discharging the injunction,
(1) although the proceedings were active, for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, the trial would not take place for at least 10 months which was far enough in the future for the risk of any prejudice to be insubstantial;
(2) the strict liability rule prevailed over the rule in Bonnard v Perryman.
The court took a robust view of the ability of jurors to decide cases uninfluenced by outside pressures, at least if the trial takes place many months after any potentially prejudicial publicity has occurred. This approach has generally prevailed in more recent years.