Full case report

Attorney General v Seckerson & Times Newspapers Ltd

Reference [2009] EWHC 1023 (Admin)
Court Administrative Division

Judge Pill LJ & Sweeney J

Date of Judgment 13 May 2009


Summary

Committal – Contempt of Court – Disclosure – Jury Deliberations – s.8 Contempt of Court Act 1981


Facts

The Attorney General sought an order of committal against the two defendants. S had been the foreman of the jury in the 2007 case of Keran Henderson, a childminder who was found guilty of the manslaughter of child in her care. S had been one of two jurors who dissented from the 10-2 majority verdict. S subsequently contacted T and its legal editor published an article entitled “Jurors Question Guilt of Killer Childminder”. The Attorney-General brought proceedings under s.8(1) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which bans disclosure of “any particulars of statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations”.


Issue

Whether the first and second defendants were in contempt of court.


Held

(1) Free uninhibited and unfettered discussion by the jury in the course of their deliberations is essential to the proper administration of justice. The proper functioning of the jury system was dependent on ensuring jurors’ sense of safety and security, as well as their privacy: R v Mirza (Shabbir Ali) applied.
(2) The disclosure of the 10-2 “consensus” was a disclosure of “votes cast” within the meaning of s.8(1). The reference to there being “no going back” from the initial vote and of the jurors’ use of common sense were revelations of the opinions they held. S should not have disclosed the approach to the evidence by other jurors. A breach of s.8 had occurred.


Comment

The defendants argued that the order sought by the Attorney General would amount to a violation of their rights under Article 10 of the ECHR on the basis that there was no “pressing social need” to curtail the disclosures made in this case. They further submitted that on the facts of the case, the balance between Art 10 rights and the general community interest came down on the side of freedom of expression. The judges, however, rejected this argument on the grounds that the European Commission of Human Rights had already held that the protection of jury deliberations was a matter within the State’s margin of appreciation (Associated Newspapers v United Kingdom (1994, Application No. 24770/94).

Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused in December 2009.


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Instructing Solicitors

The Treasury Solicitor for the Claimant; Martin Murray & Associates for the First Defendant; Corker Binning for the Second Defendants