Full case report

Attorney General v Random House Group Ltd

Reference [2009] EWHC 1727 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Mr Justice Tugendhat

Date of Judgment 15 Jul 2009


Summary

Contempt of court – Injunction – Contempt of Court Act 1981, ss.2(2), 5 – Substantial risk of serious impediment to course of justice – Criminal trial – Book detailing police operation leading to arrests


Facts

The Applicant applied for an injunction to restrain the further sale of a book entitled “The Terrorist Hunters” until verdicts were delivered in the re-trial of eight men accused of conspiracy to murder who were arrested in a police investigation called “Operation Overt”. The book had been sent to booksellers for sale on 25 June, just days before the evidence in the trial closed on 29 June 2009. It was estimated that the summing up by the Trial Judge would not commence until 13 July and the jury were expected to retire to consider their verdict during the week commencing 27 July. The five pages of the book which gave rise to the application described events that occurred as part of Operation Overt, although none of the accused were identified.


Issue

Whether the publication of the book, if not restrained, would create a substantial risk that the course of justice in the criminal trial would be seriously impeded within the meaning of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 s.2(2).


Held

Granting the injunction:
In s.2(2) of the Act “substantial” describes the degree of risk. “Seriously” describes the degree of impediment or prejudice to the course of justice. In combination the two words were not intended to exclude a risk that is only remote. Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 applied, although the application of s.12(3) was doubted. There was a risk of some prejudice if jurors read the book, however there was not a risk of serious prejudice because there was no substantial risk that (i) a juror would read the book if put on sale; and (ii) a juror would plainly display disobedience to the direction of the Trial Judge. There was a substantial risk that if the book remained on sale the course of justice would be seriously impeded, for example, by applications to discharge the jury. Considering s.5 of the Act: while the passages in the book were part of a discussion of public affairs, the risk of impediment to the trial was not incidental.


Comment

A relatively rare example of an injunction being granted to restrain a publication on the grounds of a risk of a serious impediment to the course of justice.


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Instructing Solicitors

Treasury Solicitors for the Attorney-General; in-house for the Defendant