Bedeau v London Borough of Newham
Reference:  EWHC 293 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Holroyde J
Date of judgment: 16 Jan 2009
Summary: Contempt of Court - Defamation - Confidential information - Family Division - Publication - Website - Whether principles of defamation apply to laws of contempt
Instructing Solicitors: Litigant in person; London Borough of Newham
The Claimant (B) was responsible for running an internet radio station. In 2006, he broadcast interviews which identified a particular minor as being involved in Family Division proceedings. He appealed against six findings against him of contempt of court for publishing the material, allowing it to be advertised for sale and failing to remove it after an injunction had been granted. B had not removed the material because the website webmaster had refused to give him the password he needed. The recorder found B in contempt. The issue for determination was whether the publication principle upheld in the defamation context in Loutchansky (No.2) would also apply in the instant case, ie whether B, in having permitted the material to remain on the website after the court order, had continued to publish and advertise the material every time the website was accessed.
Whether the principle in defamation law that each instance of downloading constitutes a fresh publication (see Loutchansky v Times Newspapers (No.2), also applies to the law of contempt.
The principle in Loutchansky did not apply. The law of defamation could not be comfortably applied without qualification in the context of an allegation of contempt of court. There was a potential tension between the definition of “publish” for the purposes of defamation and its definition in the law of contempt. In this case, B had complied with the requirement in the injunction to remove material “so far as it was within his control”. It would be strange if B was compliant with this provision yet continued to be in breach of other parts of the injunction every time someone accessed the website.
The court very much kept in mind the “quasi criminal nature of contempt proceedings” in this decision, in particular, the fact that a finding of contempt is capable of resulting in imprisonment in appropriate cases. The judge expressed “anxiety” about applying the principles of defamation directly and without qualification to a serious allegation of contempt.